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The Bravery of Adrien Agreste

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As hard as she could, Marinette threw the magazine against the balcony floor. Angry tears threatened to fall down her cheeks.  Deep breathes. In through the nose, out through the mouth, peaceful thoughts. You can do it girl.

Screw that! God, she wanted to be angry right now.

Marinette rammed her hand in her pajama pocket, reaching for the charm bracelet there. Her fingers cataloging the beads one by one.  Each bead was different, but she knew their unique textures by heart.  It was a meditation that normally helped calm her. But tonight, the action felt empty.

Her eyes fell to the crumpled magazine. Of course, it fell open to that page.

It was a picture of Adrien and Lila. Their beautiful smiling faces turned toward the camera. Lila’s hand on his chest, fingers splayed possessively.

Figures. She had carefully selected that fashion magazine. It focused on pattern building and draping.  It was one that Gabriel never featured in. But there they were! It wasn’t even an article, just a half-page perfume ad toward the back. 

Adrien was looking beautiful as ever, but Marinette could see the discomfort in his eyes. He didn’t want Lila to touch him. And, Lila seemed to know that too. Marinette stared at the triumphant gleam in her eye, bile rising in her throat.

She inhaled a shaky breath.  Held it for five counts, and exhaled.

Does it matter, as long as you and I know the truth? Adrien’s words hunted her.

“Yeah, it matters.”  She spat aloud to no one in particular.  “It’s worse.”

She pulled the blanket tighter around her body. It was after 11 o’clock, on a cool autumn night.  She sat on the floor of her balcony, her back resting against the wall.  The past few hours were a busy whirlwind of essays, studying, and working on her commissions.  Some alone time with her new magazine was her reward for a solid 5 hours of work.  

Marinette sipped her mint tea and gazed at the Paris lights. She pulled out the charm to look at it. The colors were muted in the yellow glow of her string lights.  Adrien tried his best to copy the one she gave him. The colors and materials were different. But the size and number of beads were the same. It was a sweet gesture, it really was.

“Evening purrrinccess.”  A familiar black leather-clad figure appeared on her railing, sitting on his haunches.

“Hi, Chat,” she answered politely.  “What are you doing out? It’s not your patrol night.”

“It’s nice to know your keeping tabs on me.” Chat smiled playfully.

Marinette knew she should try to think of an excuse, but she couldn’t bring herself to care.  The patrols were hardly secret.  There was probably a Ladyblog post about them.  Akuma attacks never happened on patrols.  It was more to show the people of Paris that their superhero team was always there for them.  Not to say Marinette didn’t enjoy their jaunts around the city.  Jumping from roof to roof was exhilarating when there wasn’t an Akuma chasing you.

Marinette realized that neither had said anything in a while.  Chat remained at his perch, watching her.

“I’m afraid I’m not good company tonight,” she admitted.

“Anything I can do to help?” Chat offered, jumping down from the railing to sit beside her. “They say, cats are very good listeners.”

Marinette exhaled and stared at the skyline again.  She liked having him next to her, as Marinette.  His rooftop visits were few and far between. But she always enjoyed it when he stopped by.

Chat was different around Ladybug.  With Ladybug, his bravado often overpowered any trace of sweetness.  Over the years, the flirting subsided, but Marinette’s uneasiness remained.  Ever since Bunnyx showed her that horrible future, she strived to always be professional.  She always worried that a touch here or a wink there might lead to. She never wanted to give Chat false hope.

“You seem upset,” Chat said after a minute. “I can go if you want me to."

“I don’t, it just,... it’s just,” Marinette sighed, “I guess I am upset, I shouldn’t be. It’s just me being stupid.”

“I don’t think you’re stupid.” Chat smiled sweetly.

Marinette gave a halfhearted laugh.  “You don’t know me that well.”

She went back to studying the string of beads in front of her.

“What’s that?” Chat asked.

“It’s a luck charm.”  She stated flatly. “It doesn’t work.”

‘Oh,” he said quietly, shifting slightly. “Why do you keep it then?”

Marinette could feel tears start to fill her eyes. “A good friend gave it to me. Or at least, I thought he was a friend.” 

Chat seemed to wince at the words.

“What changed?”

“Nothing really.  I just realized something about him.”  Marinette took a shaky breath, already hating herself for what she was about to say.

“He’s a coward.”

She didn’t look at Chat, but she could tell her was watching her.

She sighed and leaned head back against the wall, gazing up at the stars.

“I mean, I get it. His father is super strict.  He was homeschooled forever.”Marinette closed her eyes and exhaled. “He probably never had the chance to stick up for himself, much less anyone else”

Marinette expected Chat to say something, but he remained silent.  She debated how much she should tell him.  It wasn’t really fair to unload on him.  But after the expulsion fiasco, she couldn’t really talk to Alya or her parents.  And Chat did offer to listen.  After several moments she continued.

“There’s this girl at school. Lila. You’ve met her. Volpina. Chameleon.”  Marinette twisted a few beads. She saw him nod out of the corner of her eye.

“She hurts people.”

“Not physically, though.” Marinette clarified. She’s much too clever. But she lies, and she manipulates.” She could feel the tears escape her eyes.  “And if you ignore her threats, she turns everyone you love against you.”

Marinette could feel her voice cracking. “Parents. Friends. It doesn’t matter. She’ll get them in the end. She’s good at telling people what they want to hear.

“She had me expelled, you know? She had my parents believing the most horrible things about me.”  Tears were streaming down her face now.  “And just like that, she got me reinstated.  Just to gloat over the power she has over the school!”  She could feel Chat fidget beside her, but she continued looking straight ahead.

“Early on my friend convinced me to take the high road, not to expose her.”  Her throat tightened.  “I shouldn’t have listened.”

Marinette clutched the charm tightly in her fist and brought it to her chest.  Her breath was coming out as shaking sobs. “I loved him so much! I would have done anything he said.”

“You loved him?” Chat’s voice was barely above a whisper.

Marinette half choked, half sobbed. “Yeah,…"

She took a few more breaths to calm her breathing.  Chat made no attempt to speak.  He really was a good listener. “I was cruel to him when we met,” Marinette admitted.  She opened her fist to look at the charm again.  “I thought he was a privileged spoiled white kid.  But he had amazing kindness and sincerity to him.” Her finger traced the carved rooster figure in the charm.

“I was so awkward around him, and he was so patient with me.” She paused a moment before she continued.

“After I got to know him more, I learned how much his home life sucked. But he still gave his best, always believed the best in people.”

She could feel a sob rising in her chest.

“But... he knows what she is, he’s known all along! And then, he smiles with her! He holds hands with her!” Marinette knew she was yelling now, but she didn’t care. “He lets her touch him when his eyes are screaming for her to go away!”

Marinette leaned forward so she could bring her arm back. With the years of throwing her yo-yo, her muscles knew the action well.  Using all her strength, she hurled the charm bracelet against the hard stone of her balcony.  The red string broke on impact, scattering the charms.

She wrapped her arms around her knees and sobbed, making no effort to calm herself. Chat was here, if a butterfly came at her, let him cataclysm it.  For once, she could let herself feel. Let herself cry, let herself behave like a normal teenage girl!

The dam broke.  All the emotions she keep pushing down came at her with full force.  She felt so alone, with the weight of the world on her shoulders.  Fu was gone.  She had no idea how to be a guardian.  Her friendship with Alya was slipping away.  Her parents no longer believed her.  Lila was making her life a living hell, and she had no idea how to stop her.

The sobs continued to tear at her throat as hot tears poured out. 

And then there was Chat.  Chat who loved Ladybug but knew absolutely nothing about her.  And that was the way it had to be.  If it slipped, if Chat ever found out. Well, shit, that could end the world!

She knew she was ugly crying now,

Even though Ladybug could never allow herself to get too close to him, to show true affection, Chat was forever loyal, ever faithful.  Even now, without having any idea what is going on.  Chat was being there for her. Supporting her. The immense gratitude she felt for her partner further prompted more sobs.

He had no idea how much she needed this. But then again, he always had her back.

After a few minutes, Marinette’s breath slowly steadied. She wiped her nose and eyes on her blanket, wishing she had brought a tissue.  She sighed again, feeling some of the tension leave her muscles.  Marinette leaned back against the wall of her balcony, staring up at the sky.

“I’m sorry he disappointed you.” Chat whispered, his voice weak.

Marinette turned to face her partner.  His shoulders were slumped, his head down, he was staring at hands. Tears were dripping down his mask and falling onto his gloves.

She made Chat cry?

“No, Kitty, no.” Marinette shrugged off her blanket to kneel beside him. Chat looked away from her. 

“Hey,” she cupped his cheek. Gently, she used her thumb to wipe away a tear. “Don’t be sad, none of this is your fault.”

He made a slight choking noise.

“Please, Chat. Don’t be upset.”  He wouldn’t turn his face to her.  Chat seemed to be staring intently at one of the scattered charms.

“Dear sweet kitty, I shouldn’t have unloaded on you like that.  That wasn’t fair. When you give so much to the city every day.”  Her thumb kept wiping away tears, but they continued to fall.

“I should have helped you.” Chat finally spoke.

“No!” She said louder than needed.  “Don’t feel bad over this. There was nothing you could have done.”

“You don’t know that.” He sounded so small.

“Chat, you’re the bravest person I know.”  She cupped both his cheeks now. “Please look at me.” She pleaded.

Chat didn’t move.

“You are brave, kind, selfless, and amazingly sweet. You’re a wonderful friend and an extraordinary partner.” Marinette paused for a moment.  “And occasionally, you’re jokes are even funny.”

Chat scoffed.

He turned his head to look at her, eyes bloodshot. “You’re only saying that because you were in love with me.”

Marinette smiled at the memory of her bizarre rooftop confession. 

“Yeah,” she admitted, “I do love you.” Marinette meant it too. Sure, it was a different love than she had for Adrien.  It was different from the love she felt for her parents and Alya too.  She leaned her forehead to his. “I can’t help it. You’re very lovable.”

“Not to ladybug,” Chat stated dryly, his eyes shifting down.

Marinette’s heart froze. How could her poor kitty even think that? She sat back on her heels and grabbed his gloved hands.

“Hey,” she coaxed.  “I need you to look at me.”

Marinette waited, and after a few moments, Chat finally met her eyes.  

“Ladybug. Loves. You.” She said slowly, enunciating every word. 

His chin quivered as he shook his head. “No, she doesn’t.” His voice small. “She always says…"

“She says what she has to say!” Marinette interrupted. “She can’t let herself be in love with you. But NEVER doubt that she loves you.”

Chat seemed to be stunned by her outburst.  Marinette continued anyway.

“She has to be the responsible one, especially now.”  She was saying too much, but she just desperately wanted her kitty to understand.  “If she truly gave herself to you, the power and intensity of that love…” she paused at a memory of a white-clad, blue eyes kitty. 

“It could destroy worlds,” she whispered.

Her eyes were weeping again. Though, the sad expression on Chat’s face been replaced with pure bewilderment.  He watched her with confusion in his eyes.

“Please don’t be sad anymore,” she sniffed. Slowly she leaned over to kiss his forehead, tenderly stroking the hairs out of the way. 

She heard Chat sigh into the gentle contact. She cupped his face and gently smiled at him.  He was gazing at her, almost curiously.

She leaned forward to kiss his cheek. Chat closed his eyes, ever so slightly turning into her hand.

Marinette pulled back to look at Chat.  His eyes were still shut, his face still rested in her hands. There was a soft contentment to his expression.

Her heart warmed. She did love her kitty. Ladybug couldn’t show him, but he needed to know.  He needed to know how incredible, how amazing, how lovable he was.

She tenderly kissed his lips.

It was slow but chaste. Chat’s lips were warm and soft against her own. Surprisingly soft. His skin smelled lightly of aftershave. He didn’t kiss her back, but he made no attempt to turn away.

Marinette broke the contact, leaning back in her heels. “I’m sorry, I should have asked.  It was highly inappropriate-"

“I didn’t mind.” Chat admitted, his voice low.

Marinette was at a loss for words.  She stared at him stupidly until Chat broke the silence

“So, ummm.. thank you?”

"Uh, sure. I mean you were sad and I just,... uh.” Marinette groaned. This is a disaster.

“Well, I guess I’m less sad now.”

“Yeah me too.” 

Marinette played with the hem of her pajama top as moments of awkward silence passed between them.

“Marinette?” Chat asked, his voice soft. “May I kiss you again?”

She felt his gloved hand on her cheek, guiding her toward him. Chat was leaning forward now, so there was less space between them.

She let him lead her forward until their noses touch. She could feel his breath on her skin. “May I?” He asked again, his words creating feather-light touches against her lips.

Marinette pushed forward ever so slightly to complete the contact. A shiver raced through her body, as her stomach twisted in knots. Her heart started pounding in her chest.  The kiss was so different than just moments ago.

Chat broke the kiss for a split second before pressing into her again. Another long slow kiss. Marinette’s hands shyly touched his arms before sliding them up to his shoulders

She felt his lips pull back in a smile.  Her own face broke into a giddy grin.  Marinette felt herself being lifted and resettled on the tile floor between Chat’s legs.

Marinette wrapped her arms over Chat’s shoulders and around his back.  She buried her nose in his neck and inhaled deeply.  God! He smelled good.  Marinette felt him pull her against his chest, Chat’s fingers gently caressing her back.

She could stay like this forever.

Marinette couldn’t remember the last time she left so content, so protected, so safe.  Even dancing in the arms of Adrien, she never felt like this.  This was something different, something calmer.

Marinette frowned when his arms left her back.  She wasn’t ready for this… whatever it was, to end.  Stubbornly, she gripped Chat tighter, squeezing her eyes closed.  

She felt the familiar texture of the blanket on her shoulders.  Marinette could feel the muscles of Chat’s back move as he positioned the blanket over her body.  Once he seemed satisfied, Chat returned his arms to her back, holding the blanket in place.

Marinette pulled away from his neck to rest her head on his shoulder, gazing at Chat’s profile.  He seemed pretty pleased with himself.  Chat was staring straight ahead with the smallest grin on his face.

“Thank you, Chat.”  Marinette beamed, smiling brightly.

“You’re welcome, Princess.” Chat whispered, turning his face toward her.

There was so little space between them now. Marinette tried to look at his eyes, but her focus kept drifting toward his mouth.  Oh God! His smirking mouth, where just a minute ago, those smooth warm lips were on her own.  Marinette suddenly couldn’t breathe. They were so close, and she desperately wanted to feel his lips again.

She forced herself to look at his eyes.  They were heavy and staring at her lips. Marinette slightly tipped her chin up towards Chat, watching him closely. Her heart was pounding in her ears.

Chat’s eyes met hers for the briefest of moments before he bent his head down. And kissed her again.

Marinette sighed into his impossibly soft lips. The kisses were harder this time, and faster. All she could hear was her pounding heart and the tiny wet noises from their mouths.

Marinette tightened her hold on Chat’s back. She wanted to feel more of him. Marinette twisted in his arms until her chest pressed against his own.

A sudden jolt of pain made Marinette jump in Chat’s embrace.  Her hands came suddenly to her lip. Did Chat just bite her?  She looked up to see his cocky face.  Oh, two can play at that game!

Marinette sat up on her knees and turned to face him straight on. He was taunting her, daring her.  He didn’t need to say anything, Marinette could tell what her partner was thinking with just his eyes.  And she was up for a challenge.

He watched her with an amused expression on his face. Marinette smirked back at him.  Then, climbing onto his thighs, she took his head in her hands and attacked his mouth.

He didn’t even defend himself, not really.  Within seconds Marinette triumphantly nipped his bottom lip.  Then, his top one for good measure.  She felt his hands grab her waist, pressing her toward him. Both of their mouths were wet, but she didn’t care.

The hard fast kisses gradually slowed, but the intensity increased.  Marinette fingers traced Chat’s jawline as she gently coaxed his mouth open. She ran the tip of her tongue shyly across his bottom lip. 

She felt Chat’s body freeze.

Oh no! She went too far. Marinette tried to move off his lap when strong hands grabbed her and held her in place.

“Sorry,… I didn’t mean...” Chat stammered.

“No, it's okay,..” Marinette could tell her face was bright red.

“It just surprised me is all.”

Marinette suddenly found Chat’s bell very interesting.

“Could you, um,.. do it again?” Chat asked quietly.

Marinette felt herself smile, but she still didn’t look at him.

Once again, his mouth was on hers, his tongue shyly begging entrance. It was like a jolt of electricity when their tongues touched.

She moaned into his touch, fingers in his hair. It should be illegal to feel this good. She broke the kiss to catch her breath, arching her back to look up at the stars. Chat continued kissing her jawline, then down to the sensitive skin on her neck.

Marinette heard gasps escaping her throat, but she didn’t remember making them.  But, she couldn’t find it in herself to care either. Chat was suckling at the base of her neck. Liquid pleasure filled every ounce of her being.  

She closed her eyes, wanting to focus completely on the new sensations flooding her body. Marinette squeezed Chat’s shoulders in encouragement, grinding her hips against his.

A sudden flash of green glowed through her eyelids, as Chat’s naked arms clamped tightly around her.

“This is NOT what the super suit is for!” Shouted an annoyed voice.

Marinette heard the sound of a tiny object whizzing through the air at high speed, then it was gone.

“Plagg?”

 

Chapter Text

 “Claws out!” 

Nothing happened.

The girl in his arms squirmed, but he maintained his vice-like grip.  Marinette had pulled her arms off his back, but they still hovered over his shoulders. Adrien’s hand cradled the back of her neck, forcing her chin over his shoulder. 

His naked shoulder.

“Plagg! Stop this now! This isn’t funny.”

Silence.

The cold reality of his situation washed over Adrien.  He was in a very compromising position with Marinette.  A girl who just moments ago, was kissing him, and pressing herself against him. Oh, yeah, the same girl he had absolutely screwed over with the whole Lila thing.  A girl who loved him once, but hated his guts now. And with good reason.

“Plagg, please?” his voice was tiny and pathetic.

Marinette still straddled his hips.  Without his suit, he could really feel the heat of her… of her…  God! There were only thin pieces of pajama fabric separating them. How had things got this far so fast?

If she sees me…?

Adrien suddenly felt like he was drowning.  His breaths came in short shallow bursts.  His throat felt tiny as he gulped down air. Adrien knew he was holding Marinette too tightly, but he couldn’t even begin to relax his arms.

“Chat, please relax.” Her voice was strangely calm.

“You don’t understand, I can’t be here, you can’t see me.” Adrien’s voice was high and tense.

“I won’t look.”

“I,.. but Plagg,.. you can’t” he barely choked out the words.

“Breath with me, okay?  Inhale.”  Marinette breathed an exaggerated breath, encouraging Adrien to do the same.  After several attempts he was able to fill his lungs deeply with the night air.  “Hold for five.” Man, the beating of his heart was deafening.

“And exhale…”

Adrien let her coach him through a few more breaths. He relaxed his grip on her back but still held her head firmly over his shoulder.

“We can figure this out,” Marinette assured.

“But he just,…"

“Has this ever happened before?” She interrupted.

“No.”

“Do you think he’ll come back?”

“I don’t know, he seemed pretty annoyed.” Adrien sighed.

“Chat, it’s okay.  We can get through this.” Marinette was using her confident class representative voice now.  It was impressive really. Shouldn’t she be freaking out? A strange man was holding her against him. He gulped. In an extremely intimate way.

“First. umm… Chat?” She hesitated. “Are you wearing anything?”

“Just my pajama bottoms,” Adrien blushed, then cringed.  Great! She thought I was naked.

“Ohthankgod” He heard her mutter under her breath.

“If I bring you downstairs, out to the street. Can you get yourself home?” Marinette asked.

“I think so.” Getting into his house was another issue.  It’s not like he carried keys.

“I need you to trust me.” There was that strong voice again.

“But, if you see,..” He sounded desperate.

“You trusted me before. As Multimouse, remember?” Yeah, he remembered.  It was a good memory too. Marinette was amazing.  

“I also promise, not to say a single word to Ladybug.” There was a slight tease in her voice.  Despite the tense situation, Adrien found himself half smiling.

He took a deep breath. “Okay, how do we do this?”

“Chat. My eyes are closed tight.  I need you to let me go.” Marinette instructed.

Adrien slowly peeled his sweaty palms off her body and wiped them on his pant leg.  Marinette leaned back to face him.  True to her word, her eyes were clamped shut.  Like, really shut, as if she was trying to use all the muscles in her face.

Marinette climbed off his lap, fingertips delicately touching the ground.  With her eyes still closed, she turned away from him and crawled toward her skylight.

Adrien watched her crawl away, his eyes falling to the curves of her bottom.  Get a hold of yourself, Agreste. Stop lusting after your friend.

Once Marinette reached the skylight she sat back on her heels, ending Adrien’s view.

“I need to open my eyes to use the hatch,” Marinette explained.  “My back is turned, I won’t be able to see you.  Once I’m inside, wait 60 seconds then head down.”

Marinette disappeared and Adrien began to count down from 60. His eyes wandered over to the scattered beads on the tiles. Still keeping the countdown in his head, he gathered them one by one. A few were scratched and cracked, but none were broken completely.  He paused when he came to the silk cord. He sighed. There wasn’t any way to fix it. Poetic justice, he supposed.

When he got to zero, he headed toward the skylight. “I’m coming down,” he whispered as loud as he dared.  His heart was pounding in his chest again.  What if Marinette forgot about the countdown? What if she looks this way?

He scrambled down onto her bed and down the ladder of her loft. Channeling his inner cat, he went as quickly and stealthy as he could.  Marinette was standing by the trapdoor opening of her room. Her head was down and her back was toward him.

“Come, stand right behind me. I’ll go down first.” She whispered.

The ladder stairs creaked under her weight.  Adrien didn’t remember it being so noisy.  The steps groaned louder when he followed her down several moments later.

Marinette stood in front of the entry door, her back safely toward him.  Adrien could feel relief wash over his body. This was it. They were going to make it!

After Marinette finished with the last lock, she began opening the door. The relief was so immense, Adrien almost felt giddy as he walked over toward her.

He was startled back to reality when a light behind him flicked on.

“Marinette? What’s going on?” A female voice said.

Marinette spun around to face him. Eyes clamped shut.

“Go! Run. Don’t look back.” She commanded, holding the door open.

Adrien leaped past her and fled.

He jumped down the stairs five at a time, heart pounding in his chest. He crashed into the exit door at the bottom of the stairs, adrenaline coursing through his veins.

Bare feet hit the sidewalk as the rough texture scraped his feet.  But Adrien didn’t care. A mantra kept playing over and over in his head. I’m going to kill him. I’m going to kill him. I don’t care if he’s a god. I’m going to kill him.

After several blocks, he stopped to catch his breath.

“Plagg! Get back here! That was too close!” He wheezed.

If it wasn’t so tragic, it might be funny.  Here he was, standing alone in the street.  Barefoot, shirtless, and in his pajamas. Taking to himself like a crazy person.

Once his breath had steadied, he turned again toward his house. Walking slowly this time.  He shouted any and all threats he could think of.

“I’ll take the batteries out of all the remotes!”

“I can change the password to my Netflix!”

“Come back. Or I’ll buy dairy-free cheese!”

Suddenly, the tiny flying cat appeared in front of him.

“Fine! But you owe me an apology.” Plagg insisted, crossing his arms.

“Me, owe you? You detransformed! She could have discovered my identity!” Adrien retorted.

“May I remind you, I am the suit! It is for fighting akumas, not grinding against your girlfriend.”  Plagg accused.

“She’s not my girlfriend.”

“Yeah, I heard. Doesn’t think too much of Adrien. So what possessed you to start making out!?!”  Plagg’s little arms were on his hips now.

"I… uh, I wanted to make her feel better.” Why was his voice so high?

“You wanted to make her feel better?” Plagg repeated doubtfully.

“Maybe, she loves Chat Noir.” Adrien sighed  “Or at least she used to.”

“And what about the whole ‘Ladybug loves you. Your love is so powerful blah blah blah.’?” Plagg mimicked in his falsetto.

Adrien looked down at the ground.

“She was telling you exactly what you’ve always wanted to hear!” Plagg shouted. “You’re both so... so... Arg! This is why I stick to cheese!”

Adrien wrapped his arms around himself, squeezing the loose charms in his hand.  Honestly, he didn’t even know what to think anymore.  His mind was struggling to comprehend all the things that happened tonight. The things Marinette said. The things Marinette did. The things he did with Marinette.

“It’s cold, Plagg, Can we go home?” Adrien asked, defeated.

“I want to hear you say it first.” Plagg insisted, still acting offended.

“Really?” Adrien grumbled. “Fine. I’m sorry. I won’t make out with girls in the suit again”

 

———

 

The front door slammed shut. 

Marinette hesitantly opened an eye. Sabine had an unreadable expression on her face. Empty glass in her hand.

“Who was that?” Sabine asked firmly.

“Just a.. friend?”

“A friend? At 11 o’clock at night. In his pajamas? Who was that, Marinette?” Sabine demanded.

“You and Dad are usually asleep by now.” Marinette offered weakly, crossing her arms.  She should not have said that. Sabine’s expression shifted.  Oh man, here it comes. She rarely saw her mom this angry. 

“How long has this been going on? Do you sneak boys into your room often?  Marinette! We trust you to be more responsible than that. If you have a boyfriend over, we need to know.”

Marinette bent her head down. A lecture. Well, I guess it was to be expected.

“You’re a teenager now.”  Sabine continued, “and we know you’ll start having more mature relationships. But with that come certain expectations and responsibilities.”

“Nothing happened, Mom.” Marinette whined, “he’s just a friend.” 

“Marinette, I know your lying!” Sabine’s voice was much stronger now.

“Is everything alright girls?” A sleepy-eyed Tom appeared in the hallway.

“Mom, please don’t tell,…"

“Marinette was sneaking a half-naked young man out of her room,”  Sabine stated, matter-of-factly.

“Our Marinette?” The confused expression on her father’s face broke her heart.

“Dad, I’m so sorry,"  Marinette said, pitifully.

“Who was it?” Tom asked softly.

“She won’t tell me.” Sabine snapped.

“I…”  Marinette hated this. This wasn’t fair!

Tom walked over to her, but Marinette just stared at the floor. She felt his hand squeeze her shoulder. “Marinette, honey, we are worried. Please talk to us. Who was that?” His voice was gentle and soft.

"Umm... Chat Noir?” She confessed pathetically.

“Chat Noir? Who’s love with Ladybug? Who rejected you months ago.  Was up in your room, in his pajamas? Doing God knows what!” Sabine quipped.

“Nothing happened!"

“Stop it, Marinette!”

It never occurred to Marinette that they wouldn’t believe the truth.  She stared back at her mother dumbly.

“Furthermore, This is highly inappropriate giving your fathers history with Chat Noir.” Sabine reminded.

Marinette looked over to her father.  She saw his kind eyes filled with shame. 

“Honey,” Tom spoke gently, “if it was Chat Noir, he could have left through the roof or window.  He wouldn’t have needed to sneak out of the front door.”

Marinette sighed “I’m sorry. Dad, It won’t happen again.”  She was suddenly very tired. “Can I go now?”

“That’s not good enough Marinette.” Her mother was staring, arms crossed over her chest. “Until you start telling the truth, I’m afraid you’re grounded.”

“But, Mom!”

“Please go get your phone.” 

Marinette huffed up her ladder, grabbed her phone, and stomped back down.  Glaring at her mother, she silently handed it over.

“For how long?”  Marinette demanded.

“Excuse me?” Sabine seemed surprised.

“How long am I grounded for? Two days, a week?”

Tom and Sabine exchanged sad looks. "You need to understand how serious this is, young woman.  I’m afraid you’re grounded until you tell us who that young man was.” Sabine stated firmly.

“It was Chat Noir!  I know he was untransformed, but it wasn’t his fault!  He gets his powers from a tiny cat god.  But Plagg, the cat god, his Kwami, got upset, and left…”

“Stop! Marinette. Enough.” Tom rarely raised his voice, she froze at his words.  Marinette wanted to sink into the floor.  “Just go to bed. We can talk more in the morning.”

“Fine!” Marinette turned around with a growl.  She raced upstairs and slammed her trapdoor shut. Stomping over to her sink and she ripped out her hair ties and began yanking a brush through her hair.

When she caught sight of her reflection, she paled. Her brush fell to the floor.

Her lips were puffy and swollen.  The skin around her mouth was bright pink.  But worst, was at the base of her neck, off to one side.  A dark red and purple bruise contrasted against her pale skin.

“Tikki. I really screwed up.”

 

Chapter Text

Alya was annoyed. Annoyed and bored.  She arrived at school early to give Nathaniel a copy of her art history notes.  It had to be art.  The one subject they didn’t get to use their digital tablets.  Alya needed her notes. Her paper notes.  And her notes were not here.

Marinette had her notes.  And that was okay, she didn’t mind sharing with her bestie. But she kinda promised Nathaniel could use them too.  He spent the last week compiling a huge archive of fanart for the Ladyblog.  That boy was dedicated.  When Alya first suggested the idea, she had no idea the amount of work Nathaniel would put in.  He poured his heart and soul into it.  And, as a result, he didn’t bother taking notes all week.

Adrien walked into class and gave her a quick hello.  Alya looked for Nino behind him, but no. She watch Adrien sink into his seat and rest his head on his arms.  Poor guy, he looks beat.  She knew he would politely chat with her if she wanted.  But, it just seemed kinder to let him rest.

Alya drummed her fingers on her desk.  “Come on, Marinette,” she muttered under her breath.

A few minutes later, Nino and Marinette walked in. Finally.

“Hi, Alya,” Marinette greeted brightly.

“Did you bring my art history notes back?” She probably should have opened with a hello.  But the class was starting soon, and there wasn’t much time to run to the copier.

“Sorry, did you need them?” Marinette asked while sliding into her seat.

Alya groaned “Yeah,… I texted you this morning!”

“Oh,” Marinette replied dejectedly, “I’m kinda without a phone for a while.”

Alya sighed. “Break another one? You’re too clumsy, girl.”

“Nope, just grounded.”  Marinette leaned back against her seat, staring up at the ceiling.

Out of the corner of her eye, Alya saw Adrien slouch further into is arms.

“Why? For skipping school again?” Alya teased.

“I wish. No, something worse.” Marinette let out a long breath, “I don’t wanna talk about it.”

“Oh, okay.” That hurt a bit.  Maybe they were not as close as they used to be, but Alya was still her friend. Ever since Marinette was expelled and reinstated, she seemed more distant.  Alya tried her best during that situation, she really did.  It’s not like Lila did those things on purpose.  And, the whole reason Marinette was back at school, was because Lila had set things right.  Marinette had changed after that.  Lila kept trying to mend their friendship, but Marinette kept shutting her down.  Alya still didn’t understand Marinette’s hatred toward Lila.  But then, they never talked about Lila anymore.  They never talked much about anything anymore.

“Well but I’m here if you need me,”  Alya assured, then looked for a way to change the subject.  “Awesome scarf, by the way. Is it silk?”

Marinette reached up toward her throat, fingers lightly touching the fabric. “Yeah, and vintage. My uncle sent it to me from China.”

“Cool.”

“Yeah.” 

It was quiet again. Why was it so hard for Marinette to talk to her anymore?

“I’m sorry about the notes,” Marinette said sadly.  “If there was more time, I’d run home and get them.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Alya smiled. “I haven’t had a pastry in a while. Let’s grab them at lunch!”

Marinette smiled brightly, then her face fell.

“I don’t think I can have you over for lunch, being grounded and all.  I’ll leave the notes in the bakery, you can grab them from my parents.”

———

Alya and Marinette didn’t share the last class before lunch.   After she loaded her backpack, Alya headed toward the school entrance.  A small group of her classmates had gathered at the outside of the doors.

"Hey, Alya!” Lila waved excitedly.  “Want to eat lunch at the park with us?  I was going to tell everyone about my latest trip to England.  You’ll never believe who I met!”

“I’ll catch up with you later, I got to stop by Marinette’s first,” Alya told her friend.

“Grab me an éclair!” Shouted Nino.

"I’ll take a scone!” Added Kim.

“I’m there to pick up my notes, not to take orders,” Alya called back.

“Oh, I love Marinette’s parents! They’re the nicest people.” Lila smiled, taking her arm.  “I’ll come with you.  Meet you guys at the park!”

Arm in arm Lila and Alya walked over to the bakery.  Once inside, Tom was busy helping costumers.  He seemed worn out today. Poor man. Alya shuttered at the thought of getting up at 4 AM every day.

Alya and Lila took their place in line. After a few minutes, Alya felt a light tap on her arm. She looked over to see Sabine, with a tired smile. She had Alya’s art history notes in hand.

“Sweet!” Alya grinned, taking the notes. “Thank you so much!”

“Thank you for letting Marinette borrow them” Sabine replied politely.  Alya, expected her to leave, or at least exchange more small talk.  But Sabine just stood there, nervously twisted her wedding ring.

“Alya, may I talk to you for a moment?” She finally spoke.

“Sure” Alya answered cheerfully.

Sabine’s eyes fell to Lila.  Something in her expression told Alya that this needed to be a private conversation.

“Oh, don’t mind me,” Lila said, dropping her arm and turning her back to them.  She walked over to the display case. “Everything looks so good! It’s going to take me forever to decide.”

“Thank you, that’s very sweet of you Lila,” said Sabine.

Alya looked at her, curiously. She seemed to be struggling to find words. Sabine looked serious though. Alya patiently waited. 

“Has Marinette been seeing anyone at school?” Sabine blurted out.

Alya blinked. “Like a boyfriend?”

Sabine nodded.

"Well, I know Luka is interested, but Marinette just never seems to be feeling it.”

“And does Luka have blond hair?”

Weird question. “Naturally? I have no idea. It’s currently blue. Teal. Turquoise. Something. What’s this about?”

Sabine lowered her voice, “We are just worried about Marinette, about some of the choices she has been making.” She paused for a moment.  “With boys.”

“With boys?” Alya repeated, surprised. “I don’t think you need to worry. You know how Marinette gets when she’s around a boy she likes.  Anyway, I think she might be taking a bit of a break right now. She doesn’t even gush about Adrien anymore.”

Sabine looked around nervously. “Please, this needs to stay between us, but Marinette had a boy in her room last night. Very late. Naturally, her father and I are extremely concerned.”

Alya felt her mouth drop open.

“Can you think of who it might be?” Sabine prodded.

“No. Ma’am.” None of this made any sense. “What did he look like?”

“We don’t know. We only saw his back when he was leaving.” Sabine sighed, obviously worried.

What the hell, Marinette?

“Please, Alya, if you find out anything, let us know. We are very worried. This isn’t like her.” Sabine said, sadly.

“I will,” Alya promised.

Alya was in a daze as she ordered and paid for her muffin. Mr. Dupain gave Lila a box of macarons to share with the class, on the house.  Alya thanked him numbly, her thoughts elsewhere. What was that girl up to?   How did she go from dreaming about holding hands with Adrien, to having boys in her room?  Lila and Alya exited the building silently.  After a moment, Lila spoke.

“Are you okay, Alya?” Lila asked, her face full of concern.

“Yeah,” replied Alya. “Just a lot on my mind”

She paused for a moment. “Did you hear any of that, just now?” Alya asked her friend.

“Me? No. My tinnitus has been super bad lately. I didn’t want to say anything because of how much trouble it caused last time.  But, it’s really hard for me to hear right now.” Lila admitted.

Alya put her arm around Lila’s shoulder.  “Don’t feel like you have to keep things from me, Girl. Friends help each other out”

“Thank you, Alya. Your the best!” Lila smiled.

 



Chapter Text

Adrien was exhausted.  If he slept last night, he didn’t remember.  His brain was a mess. But Adrien knew one thing for certain.  He was a coward. And now, he learned, Marinette was grounded.

He sat by himself on the top stair of the staircase at Françoise Dupont High School. It was toward the end of lunchtime, but Adrien never went home.  A quick text to Nathalie explained that he was going to study through lunch, to make up for missing a class, last week’s photoshoot, and all. But Adrien really just wanted time alone with his thoughts.

Lila was still hurting Marinette.  The very truce he had made to bring Marinette back to school, was causing his friend to cry her heart out to virtual strangers.  And why wouldn’t it? In Marinette’s mind, he was in bed with the devil.

Adrien rubbed his temples. He hated those photoshoots with Lila.  He hated her voice, the sing-song way she complimented and flirted with people. He hated her laugh. Hated her smell. But he hated her touch the most. And boy, that girl loved to touch him.  A touch that revolted him to his core. Adrien thought he was good at hiding it.  With practiced professionalism, he swallowed his disgust and smiled toward the cameras. Always desperate to get the shoot finished as soon as humanly possible, so he could run home and take a scalding shower.

But Marinette saw through him. Sweet Marinette. His friend who loves him. No, his mind corrected, his friend who loved him.  What was that supposed to mean anyway?  At the time, he couldn’t really ask her to elaborate.  She couldn’t have meant in love.  She never flirted, asked him on dates, or wrote him poetry, brought him flowers, or kissed his hand.  Adrien paused for a moment.  How do girls even show they are in love anyway? He knew Kagami was interested in him because she told him.  She was direct like that.  Adrien sighed.  Maybe if he wasn’t homeschooled, maybe if he wasn’t so socially awkward, maybe if…. maybe if he wasn’t such a... such a... coward.

And God! He was a coward! How could he just leave her like that? He left her to deal with her mother on her own. The great Chat Noir fleeing into the night!

Adrien slumped. He knew why he didn’t stay. For as heartbroken as Marinette was, her finding out his true identity now… that would be an unimaginable cruelness.

He sighed, Adrien shouldn’t have kissed her.  He knew that. Hell, he even knew that at the time.

…why did he kiss her?

She started it! Adrien thought defensively. Great, how old am I? Five.

Adrien groaned and covered his face with his hands.  He kissed her because he wanted to. He kissed her because her lips were soft.  Because she felt good. Because she tasted nice. She called him Kitty, just like his lady.

But she wasn’t his lady.

He felt a bit guilty, but not as much as he expected.  He wasn’t in love with Marinette.  But the all-consuming flame he once carried for his lady, wasn’t the same either.  He was still in love with her, of course. That would never change.  Though, she seemed more distant now. Fu's departure had rattled her immensely.  Adrien sighed. It made sense though, he wouldn’t want the responsibility of all those miraculous.

Adrien looked down to see Plagg asleep in his shirt pocket.  He still didn’t know what on earth Plagg was thinking.  He seemed uncharacteristically bothered by what happened to the suit last night.  As Chat Noir, he had been covered in monster saliva and Plagg never complained.  Hell, he’d even swam through the sewer. Was he really bothered that much by Marinette rubbing against him?

He felt himself flush. This was not the place to be replaying last night’s make-out session. 

It was nice, though, Adrien mused. Even just holding her under the blanket was nice.  Or her kiss to his forehead.  Adrien smiled at the memory, his mom used to do that.

Adrien looked down. His classmates had started gathering to the side of the stairs.  From the sounds of it, they just had lunch in the park across the street.  Lila had bought the boys macarons.  Normally, Adrien would have felt bad that he had missed out on the fun.  It was just as well.  Adrien didn’t really feel like talking right now.

The group was busy chattering below him. Adrien wasn’t paying much attention to the conversation.  His focus was across the courtyard, on the entry doors.  Waiting for Marinette to come through.

He knew he should talk to her, think of something clever to say. All lunch he had been racking his brain, what could he say to her.  Were there any words that might make her life better right now?  Was it too late to say he was sorry for the advice about Lila? Would Marinette feel better if he promised never to do another photoshoot with her?

He sighed, feeling pathetic. Adrien glanced at his watch. Five minutes until class, and he couldn’t think of a single thing to say.

More and more students were filing through the entry doors. Until, finally, he saw her.  Adrien felt a slight blush rise on his cheeks, and his heart started beating faster.  He was nervous, okay, 30 more seconds do to think of something to say.

Marinette was walking slowing, eyes cast down. She probably wouldn’t see him if he waved.

“Hey, Marinette! Hold up a minute!” Alya called.

Adrien watched her run toward her friend.  Alya began talking to Marinette, but it was too far away for Adrien to hear.  It didn’t look like a good conversation. Marinette had her arms crossed defensively, and Alya stood firmly with her hands on her hips.

Maybe she never got her notes back.

“I’m so sorry Marinette couldn’t join us at the park today,” Lila spoke, suddenly the conversation below him became interesting. “I’ve been trying so hard to be her friend again. I feel so bad for what happened between us.”

“Give her time. She’ll come around.” Max said confidently.

“I even stood up for her, you know.” Lila continued.  “Several days ago, some older boys were claiming they saw her profile on a Sugar Daddy website.”

Adrien growled  What the hell was Lila saying now?

“What’s a sugar daddy site?” Asked Ivan.

“Its a dating site where older men, ‘Daddys’ look for younger women to date.  It’s usually rich men who exchange expensive gifts for sexual favors,” informed Kim.

“Isn’t that prostitution?” asked Max.

“Only if its for money.” 

“How the hell do you know this?” demanded Ivan

“Common knowledge,” Kim beamed proudly.

"Anyway,” Lila interrupted. “I told them ‘No way!’ Marinette is my friend, and she would never do anything like that. It must be another bluebell-eyed, half Asian.”  Lila started to choke up. “I’m trying to be a good friend to her.  Why can’t she see that?”

Max walked over to her and padded her shoulder gently.

“You’re so kind, Max, but we should go. I don’t want to make us late for class.” Lila said sweetly.

Once the group had left, Adrien stood up from his vantage point on the stairs.  He felt physically ill. His hands were sweating and his heart was pounding.  He told Lila to leave Marinette alone! He threatened her. He warned her. He endured humiliating and degrading photoshoots with her.  And she still... 

Bile was rising in his throat as he desperately looked for the nearest bathroom.  He ran fast as he could, barely making it to the sink before the dry heaves took him. He hadn’t eaten today, guess that was a blessing.

Once his stomach settled, Adrien washed out his mouth and looked up into the mirror.  His face was flushed, his eyes were red, tears streaming down his cheek.

He stared hard at his own reflection.

“Coward” he spat.

 

_____

 

Adrien was late to class. When he finally arrived, Marinette had her head down, staring at her tablet. So much for having something to say. 

During class, Adrien noticed a certain coolness between Alya and Marinette.  They were still polite to each other, but the conversation seemed forced. Those two used to chatter effortlessly, he hated to see their friendship wither.

Once school finally ended, the students exited the class as a group.  Adrien packed up his bag, slowly.  He wanted Lila to leave first, so he could keep an eye on her.  With her seat in the back, Lila usually was the last one to leave the classroom.  Once she left, Adrien followed from a distance, far enough away not to be dragged into any small talk.

The girls from his class were busy talking in a group in the courtyard.  He watched as Lila ran down the stairs and joined up them.

“Hey, Marinette!” Lila called cheerfully, waving.

“Lila.” Marinette greeted dryly.

“I was wondering since you are such a good designer, I was hoping I could commission you for a new purse.  Well, not a purse, more like a clutch. There’s a big event at my mom’s embassy next week, and I would love to show off a Marinette Designed original.” Lila gushed in her sweetest voice.

Alya nudged her and muttered. “Play nice, she’s trying to make a fresh start with you”

“Thank you for thinking of me, Lila, but I really am too busy right now,” Marinette stated flatly.

“Oh, and I could totally pay you for your time and materials.” Lila grinned sweetly. “My uncle, the one that’s a famous pianist, gave me €100 for my birthday.  He told me to spend it on anything I want.  And what I want the most.” She paused for dramatic effect “Is something made by my dear friend Marinette.”

Rose squealed as she clapped her hands together and smiled. “That’s so sweet, Lila.”

Adrien didn’t like this.  She was up to something. By now, even the boys started gathering around them.  Everyone knew of the feud between Marinette and Lila.  He wasn’t sure if his classmates were gathering in anticipation of a fight, or to see the birth of a friendship. Either way, he knew their presence was putting pressure on Marinette.

“Marinette, say something,” urged Alya.

“Well, I guess I could make a few sketches.” Marinette offered.

His classmates started cheering. Literally cheering.  Adrien started sweating. This was wrong, all wrong.

“You’re the best Marinette! I pinned a bunch of ideas on my Pinterest board, for inspiration. Here, take a look.” Lila handed Marinette her phone.

Adrien watched as Marinette politely swiped through the images. Alya, Rose, and Juleka curiously peeking over her shoulder.

“And for the material, I was thinking silk.” Then, fast as a viper, Lila snatched the scarf from Marinette’s neck. “Like this. Oh my god, Marinette! Did you hurt your neck?”

The phone hit the ground as Marinette ripped the scarf back from Lila’s hands.  Adrien had never seen his classmate so angry before.  Marinette looked absolutely feral. Her eyes were glaring, her face was red and her mouth could only be described as a snarl. She pulled back her fist as if to strike. “You!”

Suddenly, everyone as shouting at once.

“Whoa! Marinette!”

“Calm down girl!”

“Is that a hickey!”

“What the hell!”

“Not cool."

Adrien’s heart was racing. The mark on her neck. That was... that was... oh god! That was from him. And now, Marinette was trapped, in a circle of friends, being humiliated by Lila. He had to do something! But what? Think! 

Then, Adrien saw the most amazing thing happen. He watched as Marinette shut her eyes, inhale deeply, then reached down to pick up Lila’s phone. 

“Sorry. I’m so clumsy.” Marinate smiled dryly, handing Lila’s phone back. “Lila, I’m afraid I really can’t take on any commissions at this time.”

Without saying another word. Marinette turned and walked out the entry doors. Holding her scarf in her hand.

The group watched, stunned, as she left. When Marinette was no longer view, the chattering began.

"Holy hell!”

“You saw it too!?”

“Marinette has a boyfriend!”

“This is so unlike her!”

“Could she really have a Sugar Daddy?”

“I don’t care what anyway says,” Lila defended firmly. “I’m sure it isn’t a hickey. Maybe Marinette has a rare rash? I think I saw something like it when I was in the kingdom of Achoo.”

Adrien ran into the locker room. He wanted to cry, he wanted to scream, he wanted to break something. He wanted to cataclysm her smiling, lying face! Lila had set Marinette up.  Again! Instead of playing the victim like last time, she was playing the role of the dear concerned friend.

But it didn’t make sense! How had Lila known that Marinette’s scarf was concealing a hickey? He had been watching Lila all day, she never got close to Marinette.  Was it a guess? Sure, a scarf was an odd choice for a fashion accessory this time of year. Did she simply take a calculated risk? If her neck was blemish-free, what was the point if that whole act.  No, she had to have known something. But how?

Alya and Nino walked to the locker room.

“...she has been off lately. Not buying the whole ‘sugar daddy’ thing, though,”  Nino crossed his arms. “I wish I knew who started those rumors.”

Adrien wanted to pull his hair out. You were there when the rumor started! There were no older boys to start them! It was Lila!

“…even her parents are super worried her sudden reckless behavior.”  Sighed Alya. 

Wait. What? How would Alya know her parents are worried?

A single image jumped into memory. Lila holding the macaron box with the familiar TS logo. “Alya! Did you go to the bakery today?” Adrien shouted from across the room.

“Yo, Dude! Didn’t see you there.” Nino called back.

Adrien marched over to his friends. “Did you go to the bakery with Lila, and talk to Tom or Sabine?”

“Yeah,.. why are you interested?” Answered Alya, taken back.

“What did they say?” demanded Adrien, a little more forceful than he meant too.

“Excuse me?”

“What did they tell you?” Adrien asked again, calmer this time.

“That they are worried about Marinette,” Alya explained.

“Why?” Adrien prodded.

“You’re freaking me out with the questions here. Why are you so interested?” Alya stared at him, confused.

Adrien took a deep breath, forced his muscles to relax, and continued.  “Please Alya. I’m her friend. It’s important.”

“Dudes. This is looking pretty intense, so I’m just gonna go chill in front of the school.  Meet you all there.” Nino backed away from them, wide-eyed.

Alya sighed.  “Listen, I know it would mean a lot to Marinette that you are so concerned right now. And, it’s not much of a secret, now, with that huge hickey in her neck.”  Alya paused before leaning in closer. “This needs to stay between us, okay? Sabine told me she caught Marinette sneaking a boy out of her room last night. A blond boy.”

Adrien paled. 

“Don’t worry. No one thinks it’s you. It would take a SWAT team to bust you out of that fortress house of yours. At first, I thought it might be Luka because they have a bit of chemistry there, but her parents said he had blond hair.” Alya thought for a moment. “Is Félix in town? 

“No,” Adrien answered dryly.  He took in a deep breath and stared up at the ceiling. “So, Marinette’s parents don’t know who it was?”

“They only saw his back,” Alya replied.

“And they told you this,” he exhaled, “in front of Lila.”

“No, well, I mean, she was in the room, but it’s not like Lila could have heard anything anyways, her tinnitus is super bad right now.”

Adrien pushed past her, without saying goodbye. He ran across the courtyard, his hands in tight fists, fingernails digging into his palms.  Lila had heard Sabine. She knew Marinette had a boy in her room last night.  When she sported a neck scarf the next day, it wasn’t a difficult leap to believe that Marinette had a reason for hiding her neck.

Adrien exited out the entry doors and stood on the steps, panting.  Why didn’t he say something? He was right there when Lila started in on her lies again. And all he did watch. He knew she was up to something when she approached Marinette. He could have interrupted. He could have grabbed Marinette’s hand and dragged her out of there.

But he didn’t. 

And now, he had let Lila hurt his friend. Again.

Adrien was done. He was so done. He was done doing nothing. Done watching his friend get hurt.  If Lila was an Akuma, he would have pummeled her senseless with his baton. But as Adrien, he didn’t know how to fight her.  She was always too clever, always a step ahead.

He knew he couldn’t fix what happened today.  Lila’s plan had been executed perfectly. Flawlessly.  But there was something he could do. And at this point, he didn’t care about the fallout. He was done being a coward.

Adrien inhaled a deep shaky breath and headed toward the Tom & Sabine Boulangerie Patisserie.

 

——

 

The bell brightly twinkled as Adrien opened the bakery door.  

“Welcome! We’ll be with you in a moment.” Sabine’s voice called out.  It was late afternoon and the bakery was closing soon.  Most of the pastries had been sold, and Sabine was wiping down the counter. She smiled when she saw Adrien.

“Adrien! Wonderful to see you again. What can I get for you?” Sabine asked politely.

“Nothing today,” Adrien replied much faster than he meant too.  Sabine watched him as he stood dumbly in the middle of the bakery.  

What’s wrong with you, Agreste? Make words! Adrien thought.  Great. Now that he was here, he had no idea what he was going to say. Stupid. Stupid.

Sabine finally spoke. “If your here to see Marinette. I’m afraid she’s grounded.”

Adrien tried to swallow, his throat tight, heart pounding in his ears. “Actually, I’m here to talk to you.”

Sabine blinked. “How can I help?”

"I want you to unground Marinette.” Adrien blurted out.

Sabine stared at him a moment before she sighed. “I appreciate the concern, but Marinette was grounded for a reason.  And until she...”

“She’s protecting me!” Adrien shouted. He was shaking uncontrollably now.  He could feel the beads of sweat forming on his brow. He could do this! This was something he could fix.  Even if it meant losing his miraculous, even if it meant being punished by his father. He. Could. Fix. This.

“I beg your pardon?”

“She’s protecting me,” Adrien repeated, softer now.  “I... it was me, leaving the apartment last night.” There, he exhaled. It was done.

Sabine silently watched him, a confused look on her face.

“Umm...” He continued, “you see, my father is always looking for excuses to pull me out of school. And, if it got back to him that I snuck out... he’d... he would…” He knew he was stammering.

Adrien took a deep breath and tried to focus his thoughts.  He paused for a moment before speaking again.

“Marinette’s trying to do the right thing, she’s trying to shield me from my father.  But, rumors are starting at school.  And… I can’t bear to see her hurt. Not when I can help.”

“Are you dating my daughter?”  Sabine asked, still confused.

“No, but, umm, things got a bit out of hand last right.” He held up his hands. “It was mutual, I respect your daughter very much. I would never,..”

Never what? Not sure where he was going there.

Sabine walked over to him and put a hand on his shoulder. She looked up at him with kind eyes.  “Adrien, you’re a good person. And it was very brave of you to come here.”  She said without any trace of irony. “I won’t be calling your father.”

“Oh thank God!” The words escaped his lips before he knew it.

“And Adrien? Please know, you are welcome here, any time of day, for any reason.” With those words, the small woman hugged him tenderly.  Adrien was shocked by the sudden contact. Before he could think of returning the embrace, Sabine pulled back.

“And thank you, Adrien, for your honesty,” Sabine said sincerely. 

“So um… Are you going to unground Marinette?” Adrien asked awkwardly.

“I think that’s only fair,” answered Sabine.

Adrien relaxed. He could breathe again. He did it!

“Oh, um… is there any way you could not tell her I came by? She’s pretty determined to deny it was me.”



Chapter Text

Marinette laid on her rug on the floor. How was this her life?  When she woke up this morning, she thought things couldn’t get any worse. Man, she was wrong.

She was Ladybug for crying out loud. She could battle super villains, but she couldn’t defeat Lila Rossi. Though, she’d take an army of Akuma over that girl any day.

“You handled that terrible girl so well today!” chirped Tikki.

Yeah. Marinette supposed she did. God! she wanted to punch that smug little face, she almost did too.  Marinette sighed.  She felt numb.  She was so tired of feeling. She didn’t even mind being grounded at this point.  Marinette didn’t want to see her friends right now.  And, even if she had her phone, Alya would be pestering her with questions.

Marinette groaned. Alya

Somehow, Alya was convinced she was hiding something from her. Girl, I know something’s up. What are you hiding? Alya practically pounced on her in the courtyard.

Oh, not much. I run around in a skin-tight magic suit, playing superhero. I’m the Guardian of a bunch of powerful gods. Oh! and last night I made out with Chat Noir.

She blushed at the memory, then sighed. What kisses they were! She had never kissed a boy like that.  Ladybug had kissed Chat before when it was necessary in battle. And once on top of Montparnasse Tower, but she couldn’t remember that one.  Maybe there were more kisses that day she couldn’t remember?

Marinette yawned and stretched. She hoped Chat made it home okay.  He seemed pretty freaked out last night.  She couldn’t blame him though.  If her transformation dropped when she wasn’t expecting, who knows how she would deal.  She doubted Tikki would ever do that to her, not if she could help it.

Tikki explained Plagg really disliked the mushy stuff unless it was mushy cheese. Still, dropping the transformation seemed extreme.  It wasn’t like they could really do anything with Chat’s suit on.

Marinette groaned. Why are you thinking about that!? It’s not like she could have any future with Chat Noir. Bunnyx had made that pretty clear. Still, she mused, his kisses felt nice.

“Marinette?” Sabine called from downstairs. “Can you come down here for a minute?"

She moaned and pushed herself onto her feet.  Her mom probably wanted her to help close the bakery. Marinette slowly walked downstairs, dragging her feet. 

Sabine held out her phone. “You can have this back now.”

Marinette blinked, “Why?”

“You’re no longer grounded,” informed Sabine. 

“Um, thank you?” Marinette took her phone back. “I don’t understand. Are you no longer mad?”

“I’m still angry you lied.” Sabine admitted “and with giving you your phone back, I need you to understand something.”

Here it comes.

Sabine gently grabbed her shoulders and looked her straight in the eyes. “Whatever you and your friends are going through. Your father and I are on your side.”

Huh?

Sabine pulled her into a warm embrace, rubbing her back. “If you have a problem, talk to us. We love you and we’re here to help.”

Marinette hugged her mother back, bewildered. “That’s it?”

“That’s it.” Sabine let go and turned to head back down to the bakery.

Marinette watched her mother depart, still stunned. Slowly she climbed back up the stairs to her bedroom and shut the door.

“Tikki, I have the best mom in the universe!”

 

Chapter Text

The sky was still dark when Adrien woke up before his alarm. He felt relaxed and energized at the same time.  This was it! The beginning of a new Adrien. He would be the friend Marinette needed him to be.  

Rolling out of bed, Adrien fell to the floor and started his morning routine of pushups, sit-ups, and squats. Push-ups first.

Lila was changing her tactics, covering her tracks. Instead of outlandish lies and playing the victim, she was playing the master manipulator. And she already had Marinette on the defensive.

twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven, … Adrien could feel his shoulder muscles start to warm up.

Lila might have reached too high, though.  A sugar daddy? Marinette? Was she forgetting that some of her classmates had been friends with Marinette since grade school? Adrien smiled when he remember Nino doubting the rumor.  Plus, there must be an easy way to fact check.  How many sugar daddy sites could there be? Maybe he could ask Max, or Alya to look for him. You know, out of concern for their friend.

Adrien flipped over and started his sit-ups.

Marinette needed to know she wasn’t in this alone anymore. Together, they could watch Lila more closely, share notes, discuss strategies. And if she needed to vent, he could be there to listen.

Adrien paused at the top of his sit-up and hugged his knees. If she needed to cry, he could be there too, as Adrien. He inhaled deeply. He could be the friend she needed all along.  While getting her ungrounded was a good first step, he needed to do more.  Even if his classmates didn’t believe the sugar daddy story, they still saw the mark on Marinette’s neck.  Naturally, there would be rumors and speculation.

Adrien started his sit-ups again …thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-three...

Thankfully, he knew Marinette would never out Chat Noir. Still… It might be fun. Adrien smiled imagining his classmate’s reactions. Rose would be all for it. Alya would demand an interview for the Ladyblog.  The guys would give her a round fist bumps.  Hmm,.. maybe it’s not a bad idea.

Adrien finished his set and lay on his back.  No, he sighed.  If word ever got back to Hawkmoth that Marinette was connected to Chat, it would be dangerous for her and her family.  He couldn’t do that to her, to them.  Adrien sighed as he remembered Sabine’s warm arms holding him.  He wasn’t expecting that. Come to think of it, he wasn’t sure what he was expecting. Sure as hell wasn’t a hug though. 

Maybe he could convince Marinette to tell everyone it was him. Adrien. He blushed at the thought.  Why not? Her parents already thought that. He’d have to think of a way to explain how he got out of his house. But that didn’t seem too hard.    Though, Kagami wouldn’t like it.  She had been waiting patiently for him to get his act together. So, he would have to explain himself carefully.

He groaned. How could he explain it to her? He could barely explain it to himself.  The truth was just far too messy.  Was there an explanation that even made sense? Even now? Much less once you removed Lila, his love for Ladybug, and a trouble-making kwami?

He smiled over at Plagg sleeping on his pillow. While he would never go so far as to thank his tiny friend, maybe this was the push he needed.  The catalyst to push him into action.  Starting today, he was a brand new Adrien!

Adrien stood up and stretched, then he began his squats.  Things will get better, Marinette. You’ll see. We’re a team now. We can do it. You and me against the world!

____

Adrien was tapping his foot nervously as he sat alone in Ms. Bustier’s classroom.  Should he have waited for Marinette in front of the school? Maybe he should have picked her up from her house?  No. Probably best to avoid Tom and Sabine for awhile.  He didn’t want to come on too strong either.  Marinette was skittish on the best of days, and Adrien didn’t want to overwhelm her.  Maybe he should have texted her?  Did she have her phone back by now?  Had Sabine told her what he did?  Adrien looked over at the clock, then double-checked his phone for the time.

 “Relax, Adrien, you just saw her yesterday.” Came a tiny voice from his bag.  “I still don’t see why we had to get here early.  It’s not like Marinette is ever early.”

“I couldn’t relax at home.” He answered. While true, the nervous energy he felt at home paled to what he felt now.

One by one, his classmates walked into the room.  Adrien greeted them cheerfully.  He put in his headphones and pretended to listen to music, even closing his eyes and tapping an imaginary beat.  The first step in Operation Stop Lila: Assess the Damage. Adrien was listening to their conversations, straining his ears for any talk of sugar daddies, Lila, or Marinette. To his classmates’ credit, they seemed to be more concerned with their own lives than spreading gossip.

Adrien leaned back against his seat. Still, who knows how long they stayed in the courtyard after Lila pulled off Marinette’s scarf.  Or what they texted each other later that night.

At 5 minutes till Nino and Alya walked into class. And then... Marinette.  Dear Sweet Marinette.  Rather than a scarf, Marinette wore a high collared Mandarin blouse.  The shiny fabric was a teal blue that practically matched her eyes. She looks really pretty. Marinette should wear blue more often

“Good morning, Marinette!” Adrien called out excitedly, far louder than he meant too.

“Morning, Adrien,” she said with a polite smile before sitting down and taking out her phone.

Crap. He was so excited to see her, he forgot to work on anything to say. 

“Good morning to you too, Dude.”  Greeted Nino as he sat down.  “Too much coffee this morning?”

“Something like that,” Adrien slouched in his seat. Stupid Stupid.

“Hey, girl. You got your phone back! You ungrounded then?” He heard Alya ask Marinette behind him. Adrien pretended to tap his fingers in rhythm.  He really wanted to hear this conversation.  Adrien’s leg twitched nervously.

“Yeah, Mom gave it to me last night.” Even with his back to them, Adrien could tell by her voice that she was smiling.

“Sooooo,” Alya scooted in closer. “who is your mystery man?” She teased.

“No one,” Marinette replied flatly.

“Come on!” Alya complained. “It can’t be any worse than what people are saying around the school!”

Adrien cringed. Maybe he gave his classmates too much credit.  Or Lila could have already talked to other classes.

“People are…?” Marinette groaned, then took a deep breath. “It’s private.”

“Really Marinette! After all the listening I did with” Alya lowered her voice, “you know who, and all the sudden you’re holding out on me.”

“I’m not holding out!” Marinette defended. “It’s just really complicated.” Her voice sounded strained.

“Really, girl?!

Adrien, couldn’t see them, but he could feel Alya’s glare. Even when it wasn’t on him.

“Ugh. Fine! Be that way.”  Alya reached forward and tapped Adrien’s shoulder.  He jumped, startled. “Adrien, would you mind letting me partner with Nino today? I want to sit next to someone who talks to me.”

Ouch.

“Sure, Alya.” Adrien grabbed his bag and headed toward Alya’s seat.  Maybe this was a blessing in disguise?  He would have all class to talk to Marinette.

“Hey.” Adrien greeted.

“Hey.” She didn’t look up.  Marinette just stared at the desk in front of her.

You can do it Agreste. “I see you got your phone back.”  Adrien gave her his brightest smile, but she didn’t look at him.

“Yeah,…” She stated softly.  Were those tears in her eyes?  Having Alya leave like that must have really bothered her.

“I hate to see you and Alya fight, I’m sure she’ll come around.” Adrien offered, voice full of hope.

“She has ever other time...” Marinette slumped forward, resting her chin on her forearms, “but I think she’s wearing down.” 

“I’d help any way I could.” Adrien offered. 

“Um... Sure.” She said, still gazing ahead.

“You look very pretty today. Blue is a good color on you.” 

He wasn’t sure she heard him, after several awkward moments Marinette uttered a quiet “thank you,” almost automatically.

Adrien wiped his sweaty palms on his pant leg.  Okay, here goes ...

“Marinette? I... um, never got a chance to apologize. For Lila.”

Marinette stiffened, sitting up.

“I didn’t think she’d… I never thought she’d..."

“Don’t.” Marinette quickly replied.  She took a shaky breath and gazed up to the ceiling. “Adrien. I can’t do this now.”

“But, If you let me...”

“Please,..” Marinette interrupted. She turned towards him, eyes wet and red, “I can’t,” she whispered before looking away.

“It’s just... You’re a kind person, Marinette. I hate to see bad things happen to you.”

Marinette inhaled deeply, then seemed to stop breathing entirely.

“So, umm. If you ever need to talk. About anything. I’m... I’m a good listener.”  Damn! He was losing her.

“Or we could do lunch sometime?” Adrien knew he was reaching here.  “Or play some Mecha Strike Three? Max just told me that he thinks the final version of-”

“Look,” Marinette stated firmly, wiping her eyes before any tears fell.  “I appreciate what you are trying to do.” 

Really? Because at this point, I have no idea what I’m trying to do.

“You don’t need to feel bad for yesterday, okay?” She sniffled and wiped her nose on her forearm.  “I walked into Lila’s trap, she got me good. End of story.”

Marinette took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “It’s nobody’s fault but Lila’s “

“I... I just want to help.” Adrien knew he sounded pathetic.

She paused for another moment before she spoke again. “Thank you, Adrien, you are very sweet.” Marinette’s eyes met his for the briefest of moments, “...but I don’t think you can help me.”

A wave of icy shock descended on Adrien. It never occurred to him that she might reject his offer of help. She thinks you’re useless, remember? Coward! Adrien found himself staring up at the lights, desperately willing himself not to cry.

“And...” Marinette fumbled with her hands, “You probably shouldn’t be seen talking with me right now.”

Fencing practice ran late and it was already dark when Adrien arrived home. He felt empty.  Dejected. After their initial conversation, he didn’t speak to Marinette anymore.  Then again, she barely spoke today,... to anybody.  And people seem to be avoiding her too.  Although people stared and whispered, no one approached Marinette.  

It tore at his very soul and made him feel sick to see his friend so isolated and lonely.  It wasn’t supposed to be like this!  He was supposed to be there for her. Today was going to be the start of a brand new Adrien. 

Adrien cringed at the memory of his earlier enthusiasm. With his head hung low, he walked through the entrance and into the foyer of the mansion. 

Nathalie met him at the bottom of the stairs.  When he approached, she held out a folder. “Adrien, here is your revised training schedule, as well as a detailed fluid restriction protocol for Sunday mornings’s photoshoot.” 

Adrien growled, this again? “Is he home?” He asked, not caring if sounded annoyed.

Nathalie nodded. Adrien grabbed the folder and headed into his father’s study.  He swung open the doors without knocking. 

“Father! I can’t go on water restriction! I have a fencing tournament Saturday, the team is counting on me.”  Adrien yelled across the room at his father. Gabriel was standing at his tablet, fingers moving across the screen.  He briefly glanced at Adrien before speaking.

“Since the point of the protocol is reducing fluid in the skin to reveal muscle tone, I see no problem. It may enhance the desired effect.”  Gabriel responded drying, not looking up from his screen.

“I get weak and dizzy. I’ll barely be able to hold my saber.” Adrien complained, glaring at his father.

“I’m sure you’ll manage.”

“Why do I have to go on protocol anyways?” Adrien demanded. “It’s November, we should have months before we start swimwear.”

“The esthetic Vincent is going for is sensual in concept. You won’t be shirtless but several shots will require an unbuttoned shirt. Your abdominals will be heavily featured.”

“When you say ‘sensual’?” Adrien filled with dread. “The shoot isn’t with Lila, is it?”

“Miss Rossi will be there, yes, as she is becoming the female face of our brand.  Is that a problem?”

“Yes!” Adrien answered forcefully. Okay, this was it! It was time his father knew.  If Lila wasn’t keeping her end of the bargain, then he was done being her friend. He’d make her regret going after Marinette again. Adrien took a deep breath. 

“Father, Lila lies, manipulates, and hurts people.” He told his father.

“And?” Gabriel asked, disinterested.

“She’s a terrible person!” Adrien yelled. Finally, he was able to say it.

Gabriel finally looked up from his design tablet, and frown at his son. “Adrien, you are idealistic, just like your mother.  But unlike Emilie, you are also naive.” Gabriel turned back to the glowing screen in front of him. “Ms. Rossi has a certain intelligence that will benefit her greatly in life.  Her talents will help her succeed in her goals, whatever they may be.”

“Father, if you only knew what she is...” Adrien pleaded.

“She is driven, self-motivated, and very resourceful.  She will no doubt go far.”

“She hurts my friends!”

“That is not my problem. Nor is it yours. Perhaps you need stronger friends.” Gabriel paused for a moment to draw something on his tablet. “The weak-willed always suffer from the ambitions of the strong.”  

Adrien stared at his father in disbelief.  Marinette was not weak-willed! She was one of the strongest girls he knew, next to this lady. And she was suffering, silently, for something that was Adrien’s fault.

“I hope this won’t be a problem on Sunday,” Gabriel added.

Suddenly, Adrien couldn’t breathe. He watched his father tap away at the screen. Pure, red-hot anger courses through his veins. He balled his hands in fists.

“I don’t want her to touch me,” Adrien growled through clenched teeth.

“Speak up if you want me to hear you.” Gabriel chided. 

“I said, I don’t want Lila to touch me!” Adrien felt himself tremble as he glared at his father.

Gabriel looked up to meet his eyes. “You don’t have a choice. It’s your job.”

After a few seconds of eye contact, Gabriel looked back to his tablet.  “Now, if you’re finished with this tantrum, I believe you have piano to practice.”

Adrien spent the next few hours pounding his fingers against the piano.  He bitterly thanked Chopin for composing the glorious clusterfuck that is Revolutionary Etude. Adrien played until the pads of his fingers hurt.  The tendons in his hands ached and protested as he pounded the song’s greedy octaves, scales, and crescendos.  His back and forearms were binding up, but Adrien welcomed the pain.  No, not welcomed, he craved it.  He needed it.  He desperately needed to feel something other than overwhelming guilt, disgust, and despair that consumed him. 

The tears had stopped an hour ago, but Adrien suspected that was due to dehydration more than anything.  Just getting started on that protocol early, Dad.

Plagg watched him with sympathetic eyes from the top of the piano.  Normally, the little god watched TV or browsed the internet while Adrien practiced.  But now, he wasn’t leaving his side.  They hadn’t talked since Adrien confronted his father, and for that, Adrien was grateful.

Adrien would look up occasionally, half expecting to see a little black butterfly.  But one never came.  It surprised him actually, given the intensity of misery he was feeling at the moment.  No, he sighed. Hawkmoth could probably tell I’d be useless.  He wasn’t even worth Akumatizing. Adrien wasn’t sure if he was disappointed or relieved by the thought.

“Adrien?" He looked up to see his kwami offering a glass of water.  “If you feel up for it, its time for patrol.”

Several minutes later, Chat landed on the roof of the night’s meetup location.  The Arc de Triomphe was a good central location, they used it often.  Tonight, Ladybug had arrived first. Chat saw her nervously pacing and twisting her hands.  Once she saw him, Ladybug waved and smiled brightly. When he walked closer her face fell immediately, “Chat, what’s wrong?”

What isn’t?

Ladybug moved to look at him closely. “Hey, Are you okay?” She asked, her voice full of concern.

“Not really” he responded dryly.

“Wanna talk about?”

“We can’t know anything about each other, right?” Chat practically spat.  

Ladybug stepped backward at the unexpected venom in his voice. “Chat, I’m worried. You’re obviously upset. I just want to help.”  Ladybug walked over and sat on the edge of the roof, overlooking the city.  She patted the empty spot beside her. Chat reluctantly headed over and took a seat.

“Don’t use names or specifics.”  Ladybug explained. Chat remained silent, staring off into the night sky.  “You know…” Ladybug nudged him, “people say cats are good listeners but have they ever tried talking to a ladybug?” She teased playfully, trying to lighten the mood.

What could he say? It’s not like many teenagers had to deal with his types of problems. My father says I have to let a beautiful girl touch me, even when it revolts me to my core. I’m only allowed a half-liter of water 48 hours before a freezing cold photoshoot.  Oh, and my friend is hurting, it’s my fault, and she doesn’t want my help. 

Chat sighed. Talking about Lila and the photoshoots were right out.  He couldn’t bare the thought his lady knowing about Lila’s touches anyway. He didn’t want her to be disappointed in him, the way Marinette was.  The thought sickened him. And how to explain the situation that night at Marinette’s? What would his lady think of him compromising his identity like that? But still, Ladybug could tell he was upset, he had to tell her something.

“Give me a moment,”  Chat took a deep breath. He was carefully choosing his words, trying to be as vague as possible. Here goes nothing…

“I’m not the friend I thought I was.” He admitted sadly.  “I’ve made poor choices and my actions have hurt,” Chat thought for a moment. “are still hurting someone. There is absolutely nothing I can do to make it right”

“Oh,” Ladybug responded, thoughtfully. Chat watched her purse her lips together.  He could tell she was thinking carefully about what to say next.

“And your friend does she...?” Ladybug finally spoke.

“She?” Chat interrupted.  “I never said.” 

“I kind assumed.” Ladybug gave him a wink and playfully bumped his shoulder.  Great. She thinks I need love advice.

“It’s not like that! We’re just friends, good friends, kinda, I dunno. It’s complicated.” Chat sighed. “She loved me once. She’s so sweet and honest, and good.  And she’s clever and resourceful.”

Chat half-smiled. “She reminds me a bit if you in fact.” That seemed to make Ladybug uncomfortable.

He cleared his throat. “But, she needed me to be there for her, and I wasn’t. And, now I can’t,... I can’t fix it!” How could he explain?

Chat held up his right hand and gazed at his ring. “I don’t need a superpower, I destroy everything I touch anyway.”

“Hey,” Ladybug tried to get him to look at her. “I’m sure it’s not so bad. Have you talked to your friend?” She asked.

“She doesn’t want to talk to me,” Chat muttered.

“How do you know?”

“I do.”

“Come on, Chat.” Ladybug urged sweetly.  “You need to stop torturing yourself, you’re a good person. I’m sure whatever happened, your friend had a part in it too.”

“What?” Chat starred back at her wide-eyed.

“You said you made some poor choices, but your friend probably made some as well. Complex situations are seldom one-sided.” Ladybug explained. “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

Chat could just stare at her dumbly, mouth open. 

“You are good and brave, and kind.” Ladybug continued.  “Whatever you think you did, it can’t be that bad.  Maybe your friend should have behaved differently? You shouldn’t bare all the blame, here. It probably wasn’t even your fault.”

“Are you saying it’s her fault?”

“Um, well, Maybe?”

“No!” Suddenly, he was on his feet.  Ladybug was beside him a moment later. Chat stared at her horrified. How dare she try to blame Marinette? She was the victim in this! What? Marinette should have acted differently? Maybe she shouldn’t have been so weak-willed? Adrien’s father’s words burned in his mind.

“Hey, Kitty, look at me. Please?” Ladybug hands were reaching for him as if she was approaching a feral animal. “I know you, and you would never...”

Chat swatted her hands away. “You don’t know me!” He shouted, disgusted. Chat backed away from her slowly, staring at her as if he never seen her before.

“...and you don’t know her.” Chat’s voiced cracked.

Ladybug stood motionless, mouth agape, with a face of pure shock.  She watched silently as Chat walked backward to the edge of the roof.

“I don’t feel up for patrolling tonight.” Chat stepped off the edge and took off into the night.  

Adrien dropped his transformation and stood motionless in the middle of his cavernous bedroom. A strange calmness flowed through him. He wasn’t mad anymore. Even though, he knew he should be.  The love of his life just implied Marinette deserved what has been happening to her.  He should be angry. Furious. But he was just.... nothing.

“Adrien, Adrien? Are you okay? Adrien? You’re worrying me here.”  Plagg was flying around, panicky. 

Adrien stared at his friend with emotionless eyes.

“I’m fine.” He stated calmly.

“Wait right here,” Plagg instructed, “let me go talk to Tikki, there’s an easy way to fix this if we just...”

“Nothing needs to be fixed, Plagg,” Adrien interrupted. “it’s okay.”

“Okay?” The tiny god threw up his hands in disbelief.  “The black cat and ladybug miraculous need to be able to work together! If you can’t...”

“I can work with her.”

“Huh?”

“I’m not mad.”

“You’re not?”

“I’m not anything anymore, just… just tired.”  Adrien saw the confusion in Plagg’s eye, so he continued.

“Yes, after she said those things about Marinette, I was angry. But now, I feel... nothing.”

Adrien looked around his dark room. The ambient light of the Paris sky was enough to illuminate its features.  The rock wall, the basketball hoop, the foosball table.  There were a lot of memories in that room. From playing the piano with his mother; to watching movies with Plagg; to the amazing, but ill-fated party his friends threw him.  Every surface held a memory, held an emotion. 

Or, they used to. But now, they held nothing.  They were things. Just dead emotionless things.

Adrien walked over to his computer. He tapped the keyboard to wake it up.  His three monitors displayed three identical images of his mother. He gazed into her still unmoving, frozen-in-time-forever, empty eyes. There was no sadness, no warmth, just... nothing.

Adrien sat down in his chair and began clicking through menus.

“Adrien?” Plagg asked, concerned. “it says all data will be lost. This action cannot be undone.”

“Yeah,” responded Adrien blandly.

Reaching into his pocket, Adrien pulled out his phone. He thumbed through the settings until he found what he was looking for. With one click of his finger, everything was restored to factory default. He tossed his phone on his desk.

Adrien walked to his closet as Plagg followed silently. He found a duffle bag that he used for fencing gear and threw it on the ground. Adrien looked for anything and everything that wasn’t Gabriel brand.  A few shirts, some jeans, a hoodie. Unfortunately, all of his socks and underwear bore his father’s designer logo, there was no way around that.

Adrien paused as he grabbed a handful of handkerchiefs from his drawer. There, under the neatly stacked handkerchiefs, lay two matching lucky charms. Well, not really matching, not anymore.  Adrien had pieced together the bracelet Marinette had broken that night.  Sadly, the cracked and scuffed charms he couldn’t fix. And even with a new string, the charm looked tattered. Broken.

Adrien grabbed them both and inspected them in his palm. He should feel something. Anything. These were important to him. But Adrien could only stare at them, unfeeling. Tonight, they were just stupid glass and ceramic beads.

Still, it was a piece of Marinette, he thought as he shoved them into his pocket. Adrien took a deep breath. Even if he couldn’t help her, he could at least not be around to hurt her anymore.

“Plagg?” He asked, zipping up the duffle bag. “Up for breaking into a safe?

“Oh!!” Plagg was suddenly in front of him “Diamonds, jewels, gold bars, stacks of cash!?” He responded excitedly.

“Just my passport and birth certificate,” Adrien stated coldly. “I don’t want his money.”

“Passport? Are we going somewhere?” Plagg asked grinning.

“Anywhere but here.”

Chapter Text

Marinette shivered under her blanket. Well, not just one blanket, three blankets.  Three blankets, and scarf, her winter coat, earmuffs, two pairs of socks and a hot water bottle.  Her back ached from sitting hour after hour on her rooftop balcony. It had been eight hours since she spoke with Chat.  Eight hours to think, and analyze, and ponder what the hell happened.  And as the cloudy night sky started to lighten, she was no closer to figuring out what went wrong.

Marinette was good with puzzles.  She was Ladybug for crying out loud.  She could defeat villains with a fork, or nail polish, or a snorkel.  Analyzing situations came naturally for her.  It was her strength.  So, why was she so lost now?

Marinette rubbed her dry tired eyes. It had to have been her Chat was talking about. Right?  Chat was upset because he had left Marinette to face her mom alone. Right?  Chat didn’t go to her school, she knew that.  So he couldn’t have known about Lila’s trap to humiliate her.  Or did he?  Could Chat have been watching?  Maybe he sent Plagg to check up on her?  Tikki admitted the kwamis hung out together sometimes.  But why would Plagg care about her now, when he had been such a brat the other night. No, nothing about it made sense.  

Marinette was only sure of one thing.  Her partner was hurting, and somehow she made it worse.

Dear Sweet Chat. Marinette sighed through chattering teeth. For all his smirks and puns, Marinette knew Chat was sensitive.  He even cries when other people cry. Marinette remembered his tear-streaked face two nights ago.  She would have done anything to help him feel better then.  Marinette cringed, but she had only hurt him more.

Arg! That night, what had she done?  She thought they were just two lonely souls sharing soft kisses.  Yeah, it sucks that they were caught, but that was just normal teenage stuff. He didn’t know she was used to battling supervillains.  She was stronger than he knew. And she didn’t blame him for what happened.  Chat needed to know that.

Marinette looked over at a candle beside her, the flame dying in a pool of melted wax.  On the floor beside her, sat a full thermos of tea, and 2 empty mugs.  She needed to fix this, to talk to him as Marinette. She shifted her shoulders, trying to ease her cramping muscles.  But she had no way to contact him.  

Ladybug had left several apology messages on Chat’s baton, for all the good it did. All went unanswered.  

And so, Marinette had waited. All night. Desperately hoping that maybe Chat might see her candle and stop by.  Despite his earlier insistence that he wasn’t up for patrolling, he had been running around all night long. But he never came close enough for her to call to him. Ladybug couldn’t help him, but maybe Marinette could assure him.  Help take away his pain.

The sky continued lightening, but there would be no colorful sunrise this morning.  Gradually, the muted colors of the night started to saturate again. Marinette eyes fell to a wisp of red on the floor of her balcony.  She stared at it curiously.  Scraps of fabric were everywhere in her room, but they never made it up to her balcony.  An icy cold realization swept over her.

No! Marinette shot up out of her blankets, her muscles stiff and slow with the sudden exertion. Within seconds, she was kneeling beside the tiny frayed cord.  Tenderly, she picked it up and held it in her cold hands.  Adrien’s gift.  The tiny charm bracelet, whose textures and beads she knew by touch alone.

The sense of loss was excruciating.  

Marinette hadn’t really meant it.  Well, maybe she meant it at the time.  But, she was just so angry and confused.  And, it had been so long since she allowed herself to be angry.  So many months of bottled up emotions found their way to the surface, and she exploded.  Marinette had acted in anger, she sighed, and no amount of regret would change that now.  She cradled the tiny cord in her hands, wishing she could undo that moment she threw her gift away.

Maybe she could still fix this? Her eyes darted around the balcony for the scattered beads.  “Tikki!” she shouted.  In a moment, the tiny kwami phased through the floor and was floating in front of her.

“Yes, Marinette?”

“The beads, from my bracelet,  The one I broke that night with Chat.  Do you gather them?”

“Um, no,” Tikki replied as she looked around.  “The crows could have taken them.  They really love shiny things.”

Marinette shoulders slumped as she rested on her heels.  She brought her hands to her chest and bowed her head, holding the precious cord tightly. What had she’d done?

“Marinette, You’re shivering! There’s two hours until school starts and you have been up all night.  You should really try to get some sleep.”

“No, Tikki,” She answered, determined, “there’s something else I need to do.”

____

Marinette arrived at Ms. Bustier’s Classroom 10 minutes early. She couldn’t remember the last time she was this early.  Usually, it was a struggle for her to get there on time.  But today, she was on a mission.

Marinette looked down at the tiny box sitting on the desk beside her. Inside were 4 freshly made passionfruit macaroons. Adrien’s favorite. Even with 2 hours to work, she barely was able to finish in time. Do people really know how long these take to make?   From shifting the almond flour multiple times to beating the egg whites, to letting the batter sit once it had been pipped, macaroons were the most time-intensive item in their bakery.  

Marinette stretched her neck.  She didn’t mind though. Sure, sleep would have been nice, but after a night of feeling powerless to help Chat, this was at least something she could do.

She had been cold to Adrien yesterday. Marinette knew it. But it took everything she had just to get through the day. She couldn’t trust herself to talk about Lila or Alya without bursting into tears.  And that wasn’t really an option for her, for Ladybug. Marinette sighed. Adrien was only trying to help, she knew that. But, couldn’t he see that her friendship with Alya was dying before her very eyes? And the last thing she wanted to do was to talk about Lila.

Marinette smiled and waved as Alya and Nino entered the classroom.  Alya gave her a half-smile and a wave before she sat down next to Nino. I guess she’s still mad.

“Soooo you still up for helping me take my sisters to the amusement park?” Marinette saw Alya smile brightly at Nino.

“You know it, Babe!” He responded, grinning broadly.

“I have the best boyfriend ever,” Alya scooted over closer to him.  She grabbed his arm and spoke softly into his ear. “After we get them down for the night, let’s play that super penguino level you been wanting to try.”

Are Nino’s ears actually turning red? Ugh, no one actually thinks you are talking about a video game!

Marinette set the macaroon box on the seat beside her. It appeared like Adrien would sit next to her today.  She knew he would forgive her.  Adrien was really sweet like that.  She smiled as a familiar warmth filled her chest.  Here he was a boy that had so much, and yet friendships were so precious to him.

“Agreste, Adrien?” Miss Bustier began her roll call.

“…”

“Nino,” Miss Bustier asked, “did Adrien text you that he was sick?”

“No, Ma’am” Nino replied, helpfully.

“Lila,” Miss Bustier called to the back of the room, “does Adrien have a photoshoot that you know of?”

“He might be working with a trainer all day today.” Lila offered sweetly. “We have a super sexy photoshoot Sunday morning.”

Marinate suddenly became nauseous.

“Sorry, Babe,” Nino suddenly whispered to Alya, as Miss Bustier continued her roll call.  “I’m going to have to bail on Sunday.”

“What, why?” Ayla sounded annoyed.

“My bro needs me,” Nino explained.  “Online gaming.”

“Seriously?! I need you.” Ayla was whispering loudly.  "The twins are difficult even with two people.”

“Not like this,” Nino spoke hushed.  “I’ll make it up to you later, okay?  You know what they say, ‘bros before… girlfriends?’”

"That is not what they say!” Ayla slapped her hands on her desk.

“Miss Césaire! If sitting next to Nino is too distracting, please take your old seat.”

“Yes, Miss Bustier.”  Alya stood up sheepishly. She then glared at Nino before sliding next to Marinette.

“Chloé, Sabina,” Miss Bustier called as she finished roll.  “If your ready for your presentation, please start setting up now.”

“Peace offering?” Alya quietly asked her when she saw the macaroon box on her seat.

“Something like that,” Marinette admitted, blushing. “I made them for Adrien.”

"This again?" Alya asked, concerned.

“No, it’s not like before,” Marinette defended.  “He was kind to me yesterday, I just wanted to say thank you.”

They watched while Sabrina struggled to set up a giant poster board.  ‘The Societal and Cultural Impact of Victor Hugo’ was almost impossible to read through the gaudy mess of glitter.  Chloé wasn’t helping, but she was ordering instructions to Sabrina nonetheless.

“So,…um any upcoming articles for the Ladyblog?” Marinette asked, changing the topic.

“Kinda. I have a detailed analysis of the strength of Akumas now versus three years ago.  Hawkmoth isn’t Akumatizing people as often, but when he does, they are more powerful and deadly than before.”

Tell me about it, Marinette thought sarcastically.

“…in the article, I discuss the pros and cons.  I mean.  It sucks for our heroes that the villains are worse.  But, we miss less school this way.  And we never deal with Akumatized babies anymore.

Awhh … Marinette mused. Baby August was so cute too!  Well, toddler August now.  Did he start preschool yet?

“Alya?”  Marinette asked nervously, playing with her hands. “If Nino can’t make it, I can go with you Sunday. You know, to help with your sisters?”

Alya closed her eyes and exhaled.  “No, Marinette, but thank you for the offer.”

“Oh, Okay.” Marinette slouched, staring down at her hands.

“You are my friend, Marinette.  And I will be here for you.”  Alya touched her shoulder lightly. “As soon as you remember I am your friend too.”

____

After class ended, Marinette and Alya exited the classroom. Nino stopped Alya in the breezeway. He held up his hands defensively. “Listen, Babe, give me a chance to explain.” Marinette continued walking, then stopped and pretended to look at her phone.  She watched her friends out of the corner of her eye.

“Okay?” Alya crossed her arms.  “Let’s hear it.”

Nino took a deep breath. “Adrien needs me.” He explained, enunciating every word.

When he didn’t say more, Alya looked around confused. “Um.. yeah, you said that.”

“These photoshoots...” it looked like he was searching for words, “they take a lot out of him.”

“What’s so hard about being pretty and smiling?”

“It’s more than just that,” Nino explained. “It’s embarrassing, its always super cold, and sometimes, they give him this stupid water protocol.  The dude can only drink a half-liter of water the day before, and nothing the day of.”

“How is that legal?”

“Hell, if I know.” Nino threw up his hands. “But it makes him weak, and dizzy, and it gives him crazy bad headaches.”

“Oh,” Alya said surprised, “Why does he do it, then?”

“It’s like, industry-standard, I guess.” Nino offered.  “That shit’s messed up!”

“Okay, I get it.  Adrien has to go through hell to model.”  She paused and looked at Nino.  “What does that have to do with you? You guys just online game, with a video chat through your phone.  I’ve seen it.  You game for hours without even talking to each other.”

“Yes, I know. But I’m there for him.”

Alya looked at him, still confused.  “He’s able to eat and drink normally after a shoot, right?  The headaches, the dizziness, that goes away after the shoot.” 

“Yeah, I guess,” Nino shrugged, “but he still gets really shaky, and sometimes he leaves gaming to go throw up. He thinks I don’t know, but I do.”

Alya looked thoughtfully at the ground as if she was trying to process all the new information. “That’s… that’s actually really terrible. I had no idea.”

“I can’t explain it,” Nino said while taking her hand.  “Just being able to see my face,… helps him somehow.” Nino gazed at her, his eyes searching for understanding.

“It’s okay, Nino,” Alya said as she pulled him into a hug.  “I’m not mad.  You’re a good friend to him.”

“Thanks, Babe.” Nino kissed the top of her head.  “I can come over Saturday, we can do your favorite level of Super Penguino.”

Alya smiled as she nuzzled into his shoulder. “Maybe we can do both.”

Marinette watched as her friends headed toward their next class, hand in hand.  She felt awkward and uncomfortable in her own skin.  Marinette remembered all of Adrien’s photos that used to decorate her walls.  She used to spend hours staring at his dreamy eyes, his pouty mouth, his smooth skin.  Was she really staring at an embarrassed, cold, and dehydrated teenage boy?  The thought made her skin crawl.  She felt dirty.

“Hey, Nino?” Marinette called as she ran up to her friend. “I couldn’t help overhear your conversation just now.” 

“Oh…” Nino turned to face her, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. “I mean, it’s not like it’s a secret or anything.”

“Has it always been like this?” Marinette asked. “The modeling”

“I mean, it varies. He doesn’t always have to do the water thing, and sometimes he’s outside where it’s warm.”  Nino took a deep breath and exhaled.  “But, I don’t think Adrien has ever liked modeling. You know him.  The dude is good-looking but he’s also kinda shy. He’s just too much of a people-pleaser to say anything.” Nino paused for a moment before he continued. “Though, it has gotten worse this past year. Much worse.”

“Since he started modeling with Lila?” Marinette asked.  Alya raised an eyebrow at her.

“Yea, I guess the really bad shoots started happening around that time.” Nino shrugged, “maybe its extra pressure modeling with a girl. I dunno. My dude never says.”

——

Marinette spends the rest of the day on auto-pilot.  She could always tell Adrien didn’t like the photoshoots with Lila but having Nino confirm it made it worse. She just didn’t get it!  Why did he do it, any of it?  Why wouldn’t he just tell his father?  If Gabriel knew, there is no way he’d make his son suffer like that.  No parent would.  Gabriel might be strict, but he’s not a monster.

Her exhaustion was getting the upper hand when she arrived home from school.   Thank goodness it was Friday.  Marinette groaned as she climbed the stairs to the apartment. She still needed to talk to Chat, but waiting up all night again wasn’t an option.  Maybe she could have Ladybug bring him a letter from Marinette?  Hmm,... a letter.  That could work. But their next patrol wasn’t until Thursday.  Maybe she could leave a letter on her balcony?  Chat was often seen running around Paris on his non-patrol nights. 

Or, she thought with a smile. Maybe Tikki could have Plagg suggest Chat stop by for macaroons?  She knew he liked them.  Marinette glance at the tiny box she carried in her hands.  Even if she dropped these by Adrien’s mansion, he would never be allowed to eat them so close to a photoshoot.  Hmm... I wonder if Chat has ever tried passionfruit?

Once Marinette arrived at her room, she headed straight to her desk.  She grabbed a pen and piece of paper. Okay, girl. Think!  What would Marinette say to Chat?

Her weary brain failed her as she stared at the blank page. She had a hundred things to say, and yet she couldn’t think of a single thing to write.  In the end, she kept her words brief. 

My Dearest C,
Your identity is safe. I’m not in trouble with my parents. Please don’t feel bad, it wasn’t your fault. I’m worried about you.
Love, Marinette.

When Marinette awoke the next morning, she checked her balcony first thing.  The candle had extinguished itself during the night.  The letter and the box of macaroons were in the same spot she left them. Untouched.

 



Chapter Text

Adrien shivered as he stood overlooking the Seine, his arms resting against the railing.  He rubbed his dry eyes. There would be a sunrise this morning.  The past three mornings, the clouds gradually lightened until night turned into day, but there were no colors in the sunrise.  But today, only high clouds speckled the starry night sky.  Yes, today there would be a sunrise.

Though, he sighed thoughtfully, the cloudy nights were much warmer than the clear ones.  This last night was rough.  Adrien gently petted the sleeping kwami in his pocket.  The temperature had fallen to just above freezing, and Plagg had been able to hold his transformation almost the whole night. When the transformation faded, Adrien picked up his tired kwami, climbed down off the roof, and started walking.  He wasn’t so chilled if he was walking.

When Adrien was Chat Noir, he didn’t feel cold.  A fact he was grateful for.  When the nights got cold, Plagg insisted he transform to get some sleep.  And for once, Adrien listened.  He found a new rooftop every night, finding little cubbies or niches to crawl into.  Last night, he slept above a pool, curled up beside some piece of machinery that hummed all night.  Adrien found it soothing.

After they left Adrien’s father’s house, Plagg was giddy with ideas.  They were going to live it up.  The little god quickly reminded him that locks were inconsequential to beings that could phase through matter.  Empty apartments, hotel rooms, you name it, Adrien could take his pick.  He could phase through bank machines to grab cash.  The city could be theirs.

Plagg didn’t understand when Adrien politely declined the offer.  No, he ran away so he could be the person he wanted to be.  And that person wasn’t a criminal.  Plagg insisted that the people of Paris would gladly help their hero in his time of need.  But Adrien refused to take anything that wasn’t offered willingly.  He wouldn’t steal.

Plagg pouted for hours in response to Adrien’s stubbornness, even claimed he’d refuse to transform.  But in the end, the tiny god couldn’t let his chosen freeze to death on a roof.  He begged Adrien to transform, to get some sleep.

The suit provided protection from the elements, but it didn’t make a hard roof any more comfortable.  Adrien slept when he was exhausted, but woke up when he had slept enough for the discomfort to win out.

It was a constant battle between discomfort and exhaustion. But Adrien was always tired.

Pale pinks started warming up the clouds.  Today was Monday, Adrien mused, it would be the second day Adrien missed school.

He should miss his friends, he supposed, but the relief was greater. Without him there, Nino wouldn’t have to worry and dote. Without him there, Marinette wouldn’t be disappointed.  Out here, he didn’t feel like a failed friend. Or a failed son.

Adrien buried his nose in his bright yellow jacket.  The jacket was way too big, and often drafty, but it was a precious gift.  An Algerian tourist gave it to him. The man explained he was flying home and had no use for such a big downy jacket. But Adrien suspected that was just an excuse. The man was just trying to be kind.

Then later that day, an elderly woman handed him a knitted hat she had made for the homeless. Adrien was struck speechless by her generosity and barely remembered to say thank you.

Adrien had left home four nights ago.  He left without a plan, hell, he even forgot to take his jacket. Though, a tailored designer jacket would no doubt attract attention.  Adrien knew he had to stay in Paris in case of Akuma attacks, he also knew his father would be looking for him. So, he had to say as hidden as possible.

It was easier to do than he first thought.  Without a generous amount of product and styling, his hair fell into his eyes.  It gave him a feral, unkempt look.  It also served to hide his green eyes, one of his more distinguishing features.  Adrien also kept to the less desirable parts of Paris.  While nowhere in Paris could really be considered poor, there were areas that homeless and refugees gathered.  And that’s where Adrien chose to spend his days.

Bright oranges began to glow in the sky as the horizon changed from the dark blue of the night to the pale blue of day.

People had been kind to him.  He wasn’t expecting that.  Adrien had absolutely nothing to give in return, and yet people were kind.  He had found a coffee shop with an old piano.  The barista smiled at him and told him he could play, even without buying anything.  The shop was warm and smelled like coffee and pastries.  Adrien played songs he knew well.  His mother’s favorites.  Clair de Lune, Moonlight Sonata, Swan Lake.

When a little girl sat next to him wearing a ballet leotard, Adrien played Waltz of the Sugar Plum Fairy.  The little girl danced and squealed with excitement.  Her mom bought him a coffee and a muffin.

Yeah, people could be kind. Adrien wished his father knew that. For so many years, he watched his father fear the world, fear other people.  His father’s paranoia had kept Adrien isolated almost all his life. You were wrong, father.

But to be fair, not everyone was nice.  A well-dressed couple bought him dinner and offered to let him use their flat to shower.  Adrien was eager to accept their offer, but Plagg bit his hand in warning.  The little god was convinced their generosity had ulterior motives.  Later, Adrien asked Plagg to elaborate, “you don’t wanna know,” was all he said.

The sky was awash with colors now.  It was truly beautiful.  Something out of a painting.  A woman, who was out walking a dog, stopped to take a picture with her phone.

There would be a mass starting soon.  Adrien wasn’t religious, but the church would be warm.  The daily masses were shorter than the Sunday ones. Still, it would be an hour he could spend inside.

Then, Adrien would walk to a laundromat. He could easily spend 2 hours inside there without arousing suspicion.  Adrien had no idea how to do laundry, and he was beginning to think it was a very individualized process.  As he watched the people around him, he noticed some used liquid soaps while others used powders. Some people put all their laundry in a once, while others seem to do loads by color.  Adrien knew his clothes were starting to smell, so this was something he really needed to learn.

Then, around lunchtime, Adrien would walk by open-air restaurants.  There, he would watch and wait.  When people finished dining, there was a window of time that their uneaten food was left unattended. He could easily run by and snag a half-eaten sandwich, an unfinished baguette, or chips. It wasn’t stealing, not really.

Adrien also found that he liked public libraries. He’d never been to one before. To his surprise, libraries were so much more than just books.  There were computers, storytimes, children’s puzzles and games.  Adrien used one of the public computers to check the Ladyblog.  Without his phone, he didn’t get the alerts of Akuma attacks. Thankfully, there hadn’t been one.  He was relieved to see that he hadn’t left his lady to fight on her own.

However, Adrien was surprised that his disappearance wasn’t in the news. Not even in the entertainment webpages. Sure, there were millions of people living in Paris. A runaway 16-year-old wasn’t that important in the long run. But it still seemed odd.  Before, he would often find his name in the gossip pages, even when the story was a complete fiction. Why nothing now?

Perhaps an exposé on why a fashion heir would choose to become a homeless youth would be bad for the brand? Adrien thought bitterly.

——

Marinette clung tightly to the macaroon box as she ran to school Monday morning.  All weekend long, her thoughts drifted from Chat to Adrien.  Chat never returned to her balcony, so she would have to wait until patrol to see in again.  And Adrien…? Was he okay? Was he thirsty? Did Nino and him play their game?  She wished she had known the location of the photoshoot.  Because, you know, maybe Ladybug needed to interrupt. And grab Adrien out of there for a top-secret Akuma-related mission.

In the end, Marinette just kept herself busy all weekend long. She worked on her assignments, sketches, and commissions. She tried to distract herself from the unease she felt in the pit of her stomach. The guilt she felt from knowing that Adrien could be hurting, and there was nothing she could do. And from the fact that she never got to apologize for her behavior on Thursday.

As she ran up the steps of Françoise Dupont High School, she found Nino pacing back and forth.

“Isn’t class suppose to start in like two minutes?” Marinette asked as she ended her sprint.

“Yeah…” Nino kept looking to the street, watching the cars go by.  “I’m waiting for Adrien. Haven’t heard from the dude all weekend.”

“Oh,” Marinette looked at the box of freshly made macaroons in her hand.  “You never got to play your game?”

“No. I’m worried about him,” Nino admitted, staring at the street.

Yeah,… me too.

Marinette looked at the steady line of cars passing in front of the school.  Adrien was never late.  Sometimes he missed school for work, but he was always on time the days he was present.

“Let’s go, Nino,” Marinette gently touched his arm. “Adrien wouldn’t want us to be late because of him.” She tried to smile reassuringly, but Nino only gave her a sad look back.

At roll call, Miss Bustier asked Nino and Lila if they knew where Adrien was.  Lila relayed that she had done her super-sexy photoshoot solo. While part of Marinette was relieved that Adrien didn’t have to pose with Lila, she felt more and more bothered by Adrien’s absence in the seat in front of her.

Not that the seat was empty. Alya sat next to Nino.  Sometimes holding his hand, sometimes stroking his arm.  Her actions were warm and comforting, but they lacked the flirty nature she normally showed.

After class, Marinette headed to the locker room. She was lost in her own thoughts when she sat down on the bench in front of the lockers. What’s going on, Adrien? Marinette stared at the floor. Was he grounded? And his father just took it to the extreme? And I thought losing my phone was bad.

Suddenly, a familiar pair of red boots stood in front of her. Ugh! Not her. The last time she spoke to Lila, she barely resisted punching her smug little face.

“Adrien missed our photoshoot Sunday,”  Lila stated, staring coldly at Marinette.

“Yeah, I heard in class,” Marinette replied disinterested.  Engaging in small talk with Lila was the last thing she needed right now.  Marinette stood up to leave, but Lila blocked her way.

  “According to Gabriel, he was…”

“Oh, so you’re on first name terms with Mr. Agreste? How nice.” Marinette retorted with false sweetness as she walked around Lila. “What close pals you’re becoming.”

  “According to Gabriel,” Lila repeated, “he was having some sort of tantrum.”

“A tantrum sounds soooo like Adrien.” Marinette’s voice was dripping with sarcasm.

“Hey! Listen to…"

“Are you even trying this time?” Marinette cut her off as she turned around. “At least the sugar daddy thing was original.”  She made no attempt to hide the mockery in her voice.

Lila grabbed her wrist, but Marinette quickly swatted her away.

“If Adrien backs out of our deal, I’m going to stop being nice,”  Lila warned.

“Since when were you ever nice?” Marinette taunted.

“Oh, Marinette,” Lila smiled wickedly “you don’t wanna see...”

“Shut it, Lila!” Marinette snapped. “There is no way I’m believing anything that comes out of your mouth.”

Lila’s mouth dropped open in shock.

“So, whatever your plotting, I’m not letting you set me up again.” She crossed her arms, “I’m not taking the bait this time.”

Lila glared back, her hands in fists.

Marinette smirked before turning to leave. “I’m done being played by you” she yelled as she pushed open the locker room door.

Dawn was still a few hours away on the cold Thursday morning. It had been six days and seven nights since Adrien left his father’s home.  It was December now, and the nights were very cold and very long. 

Adrien huddled next to the large mechanical box on the roof of the pool.  He wasn’t even sure what it was for.  But it had a pleasing hum, and it was warm.  All night long, he alternated which side he leaned against it. He could sleep a little bit, here and there.  But, he never knew for how long.  Adrien didn’t have a watch, so he had to patiently wait for the morning. 

Long before sunrise, the car noises would start. Traffic in Paris was terrible, and the sound of cars and trucks was ever-present.  Except for in the dead of night. Hours before sunrise, the street noises would slowly come back to life.

Adrien curled and relaxed his toes, trying to get the blood flowing. He didn’t wear his socks; he had no way to dry them after yesterday’s downpour.  Instead, he wrapped his feet in paper napkins. They provided a meager barrier between his feet and his damp canvas shoes.  The napkins were fragile, however, and Adrien could no longer walk endlessly to keep warm. Not that his feet could handle it, anyway.  They were covered with blisters and sores. It was probably a good thing the cold numbed his feet.

Plagg stirred in Adrien’s pocket. Adrien petted him gently, grateful for the heat of his little buddy. At least one of his hands was warm.

The constant transformations were wearing the tiny god down.  Surprisingly, Plagg never complained.  During the day, Adrien was always sure to wonder near markets and cheese shops.  Plagg would phase through the wall and eat his fill before returning to Adrien.

It was harder for Adrien to get food now.  With each day, he was looking grimier, more haggard. It had been over a week since he had shaved. While a full beard might have helped keep his face warm, Adrien’s teenage scruff just made him look dingy. The open-air restaurants were now aware of his grab’n’go tactics. Two days ago, he was caught by a busboy and brought to the manager.  Adrien was giving the option of washing dishes or talking to the police.  He chose dishes.

Adrien tried his best, he really did. But he had never washed dishes before, and the water was scalding on his sensitive hands.  Also, there was a large metal sanitizer box that he didn’t understand.  Why did you steam the dishes after you washed them?  He burnt his fingers when he tried to take out the pots and silverware too soon.

To reward his efforts, the manager bought him a large dinner. Adrien ate it greedily, with bandages on his hands. The sympathetic man offered to let Adrien try again.  He just needed his social security card to officially put him on the books.  Adrien politely declined.  He didn’t even know if he had a card.  He didn’t see it in the safe that night. Besides, his father could probably use it to find him.

Adrien twisted around so his other side was against the warm metal. He gingerly picked up his sleeping kwami and put him in his other pocket.

Plagg wanted him to go to Marinette. Just explain the whole Lila thing! She’ll understand. Plagg assured. 

She might, Adrien mused, then what? Marinette literally lived right across the street from the school. If his father found him, his wrath would be extreme. It could kill the young designer’s career before it even started.

No, Adrien couldn’t risk doing that to her. Not after everything else. He wouldn’t her hurt again.

The exhaustion was winning again, and Adrien felt his eyelids get heavy.  Only a few more hours until dawn.  A few more hours until the churches, laundromats and libraries would open.  He could make it until then.

Thursday morning, the unexpected happened.  Sure, the day started out like another other. By now the students in Miss Bustier’s class were getting used to Adrien’s absence. But that didn’t make it any easier.  Marinette sighed as she sat alone while Alya and Nino sat in the front seat.

“Bourgeois, Chloe?” Miss Bustier began her roll call.

“Uh… Don’t you mean, ‘Agreste, Adrien?’” Chloe responded, rolling her eyes.

Miss Bustier exhaled sadly, “Adrien’s no longer on my class list,” she explained.

Everyone started talking at once. Well, almost everyone. Marinette just sat, slack-jawed. She felt like she was falling.  Adrien, gone from school? Forever?

Marinette bitterly remembered the other time Adrien was pulled out of school.  It was a punishment for losing his father’s precious book.  Did something happen to make Mr. Agreste so angry again?

She looked down at the tiny macaroon box on the seat beside her. How was she going to see Adrien again if he was locked inside his house? He hadn’t been responding to texts or calls, from anybody.

A loud WHAMP startled Marinette from her thoughts.  Nino had slammed his fists down, hard, on his desk.  The classroom, which was so noisy moments ago, became quiet and still. No one moved.

After a moment, Alya reached out to touch him. But Nino shrugged off her touch, grabbed his bag, and marched out of the room, slamming the door.

After that, no one spoke much during class.  The shock of it was so raw.  Marinette heard Chloe’s soft cries and sniffles, but she herself was stoic and dry-eyed. It doesn’t make sense. Marinette was beginning to wonder if she ever understood anything, anymore.

—-

“Hey, Marinette?” Alya called to her after class had ended. “I umm... I know you and I are not doing so hot right now,” She was fidgeting with the strap of her book bag, “but I need to ask you about Adrien.”

“Adrien?” Marinette asked, surprised. She loaded her books into her bag.  “I haven’t spoken to him since he was last at school. We’re not close." She said sadly, “you know that.”

Alya narrowed her eyes. “I thought I knew a lot of things about you.”

“C’mon Alya, if you’re still mad about,…"

“No. I’m sorry, I’m not,” she interrupted.  Alya’s gaze softened then she continued. “It’s just… Nino is really scared, so I’m following up on any leads I can.”

“Leads? About Adrien?” Marinette asked, voice full of concern. “Do you have any?”

“Um... not yet.” Alya looked around nervously. “Can we go somewhere more private?"

Alya walked toward the classroom doors and beckoned for Marinette to follow.  Silently, they walked to the girl's restroom.  Once inside, Alya checked every stall to make sure that they were empty.

“Why all the secrecy?” Marinette looked at her friend curiously, as Alya finished inspecting the row of stalls?

“I just don’t want to make things any worse for you right now.”

“Oh.” Marinette stared back at her friend, confused.  "I thought this was about Adrien.”

“It is.” Alya took a deep breath. “Okay, two days before he disappeared, Adrien was really worried about you,” Alya explained. “He started asking me a bunch of questions?”

“A bunch of questions, about me?”

“It was right after you were grounded. I was upset and extremely worried about you.”

Marinette looked down at her hands.

“I, umm…” Alya winced, “I told him why you were grounded.”

"But you didn’t know?!” Marinette protested. “The rumors Lila has been spreading about me are…"

“Ugh! Lila again.  No, Your mom told me!"

“My mom? But why would she...” A cold realization swept over her. She steadied her breath. “And you told Adrien?”

“Not at first,” Alya admitted reluctantly, “but he kept on digging for information.”

“Alya!” Marinette whined. “What exactly did you tell him?”

“That your parents saw a boy leave your room in the middle of the night.” Alya grimaced.

Marinette groaned and covered her face with her hands.

“He wanted to know if your parents knew who it was, but I told him they only saw his back. And, it couldn’t be Luka  because it was someone with blond hair.”

A fresh wave of embarrassment hit. Whispers amongst students were one thing, but Alya and Adrien actually knowing was another.

She was just so ready for this to be over.

“What does this have to do with Adrien leaving school?”

“I think he told your parents it was him.”

“What?!” Marinette shrieked

“Right after I told him, he stormed out of here. Then, Nino saw Adrien head to your parent’s bakery. You were grounded, so it couldn’t have been to see you.  And it’s not like the boy eats carbs.  The next day, you were back at school, ungrounded, like nothing happened.”

Marinette’s mind struggled with the new information.  It didn’t make sense.  Was he there when Lila pulled off her scarf? Did he see the mark on her neck? Why would he claim it was him?

But, if he did…  if Adrien confessed to leaving her room that night.  It might explain her mother’s strange behavior.  She went from grounding Marinette for life, to saying she’d support her and her friends. It didn’t make sense at the time, but Marinette wasn’t about to complain.  If Adrien told Sabine it was him, that would explain her mother’s attitude shift. Her parents liked Adrien.  If they believed Marinette was lying to protect him…

But still… why would he do that for her? If something like that ever got back to his father…?

Marinette gasped and covered her mouth.  She could feel her eyes start to water.

Alya grabbed her shoulders and looked into her eyes

“Now, don’t freak out, Marinette. It’s just a lead, we’re grasping at straws here.”  Alya assured.

“It’s hard not to freak out. If I somehow got Adrien in trouble...”

“We’re not there yet, girl!” Ayla tried to assure her friend.  “Did your mom or dad say anything?  Could they have contacted Adrien’s father?”

Marinette shook her head. “They wouldn’t do that.” She was confident in that. “They’ve never been comfortable with how his father treats him.”

The tears in her eyes were rolling down her cheeks now.

“Hey, Marinette? Marinette?” Alya tried to get Marinette to look at her. “There’s no need to cry, this is a good thing.”

“A good thing?” She choked.

“We’re one step closer to figuring out what happened to Adrien.” Alya half-smiled. “And this is one theory we can scratch off the list.”

“He lied to defend me!  It wasn’t his fault,.. and he,...” A sob excepted her throat. He's a coward. Her words burned in her mind. Oh, god! she was wrong,… she was so so wrong.

“Alya!” Marinette realized in horror, “the last time we spoke, he said he wanted to help me.”

Marinette hugged her arms and tried to calm her breathing. Hot tears now fell in her forearms.

“He helped me! He helped me when he didn’t have to.” Her throat was tiny and tight. “It could have cost him so much! Why would he do that, Alya!?”

Marinette desperately tried to swallow another sob, she couldn’t give into panic. No, no, no… not here.  Inhale... She tried to breathe, but her shaky lungs wouldn’t cooperate.  She dug her fingernails into the fabric of her blazer, trying to focus on the pain.  Come on, Marinette! Calm down, calm down.  She looked up at the high windows of the bathroom.  Marinette needed to be able to run if a butterfly found her.

She felt warm arms surround her as Alya pulled her into a hug.  Marinette froze at the unexpected touch, then she tightly squeezed her back, burying her face in Ayla’s shoulder.

“Shhhh…” Alya soothed, stroking her hair.  “He did it because he loves and cares about you.  We all do.”  She cradled her friend against her, as Marinette held on for dear life.

“I’m so sorry, Alya.” Marinette's tears were falling in her hair. “There are so many things I wish I could tell you.”

“I know, girl.” Alya assured rubbing her back, “I’m sorry too, for the way I’ve been acting.  Just remember, I’ll be here. If you feel like you can talk, or not, I’ll be here. Or,” Alya forced a chuckle, ‘we could even play video games?”

Marinette hugged her friend tighter. “We have to find him, Alya,” she whispered. “I have to see him again.”

 

 



Chapter Text

Ladybug had been on sitting on a roof for hours, staring blankly at the building across from her.  Besides the foyer lights, the building was dark.  It made sense. It was after midnight, people should be sleeping.

It was Saturday now. No, Sunday morning to be exact.  Over the course of two days, Ladybug’s surveillance had discovered a sobering truth.  Adrien wasn’t grounded or under house arrest.  He was gone.

Every morning at seven, a team of large, burly men would gather in the courtyard of the Agreste mansion. Ladybug guessed they were private security, maybe ex-military. Nathalie would hand them folders, talk briefly, then they would disperse.

Ladybug followed, curious to where they went. One man stood outside the high school all day long, sometimes on his phone, sometimes reading a newspaper, but always watching. Another was in front of Nino’s apartment, and another was in front of Le Gran Paris. In separate cars, the other men drove around Pais all day long.

They were looking for Adrien.

It was obvious they were watching his friends, but Ladybug knew Adrien wasn’t with any of them. Chloe had been a weeping basket case since he left.  Kagami was just as bewildered as the rest of them.  And Nino…? Ladybug sighed sadly.  Every morning, Nino still waited on the steps of the school.  Even after Adrien was removed from the class list, he arrived early to watch the traffic, waiting for his friend.

Still, it didn’t make sense! Why all the secrecy? Why didn’t the school know?  Why pull Adrien off the roster? Was it to cover up a kidnapping? If Adrien was kidnapped, wouldn’t they want all the help they could get?  Why didn’t Gabriel pay the ransom?  Maybe there was no ransom. A sickening thought occurred to her. Could it have been a crazed fan? Was Adrien locked in a basement, made to play out the fantasies of a deranged lunatic?

She slapped her cheeks, wanting to clear her mind of that imagery.

If it was a kidnapping, why not tell Adrien’s friends, his teachers, or reach out to the community?  Adrien was well-liked by everyone.  All of his friends would eagerly launch a search party. At least that would give them something to do. Something to distract from the unease of not knowing.

Ladybug slumped. Guilt gnawed at her. The last time she saw Adrien, he wanted to help her.  He had helped her. And now that he needed help, there was nothing she could do. How she wished she could use her lucky charm and miraculous cure.  Then Adrien might reappear back in his room.  He’d join them for school tomorrow. Nino would give him the biggest hug ever and cry happy tears. No, not just Nino, everyone would take turns embracing their friend. Telling him over and over how much they missed him.  Adrien would give them all his beautiful honest smile, and tell them how important they are to him.

Ladybug smiled sadly.  She would give him a box of his favorite passionfruit macaroons, and kiss his cheek. She’d thank him for being a good friend. And she would let him know…

Ladybug took a deep breath.

That she would be there for him. She would support him, encourage him any way she could. She could even help him with Kagami.

She hugged her knees to her chest. She could be the friend he needed all along.

“Strange perch for a patrol.” Ladybug jumped at the familiar voice.

“Chat Noir!” She shouted as she leaped to her feet and ran over to her partner. “Did you get my messages, you never responded.  I’m so so sorry.”

“Don’t be.” He responded blandly, “God knows I’ve given my share of bad advice.”

Ladybug sighed with relief.  He wasn’t mad, thank god.  Something was still off, though.  She stepped forward and pulled him into a hug. “When you didn’t show up for patrol, I was so worried.” Ladybug admitted, squeezing him tighter.

Chat’s arms remained at his side. After an awkward moment, Ladybug released him and stepped back to look at him.  Something wasn’t right.  He looked the same as ever, but then again, the transformations always took care of that.  No matter what hairstyle Marinette wore that day, Ladybug always had her signature pigtails.

“Umm…” she began, looking around “it’s late. What are you doing here?”

“I came to check out the view. I needed to see what’s so special that my lady’s been here for hours.” He held up his baton screen, her location icon on its map. He looked over to the darkened house. “Not too impressive, if I say so myself.”

“That house,..” Ladybug pointed over at the dark building, “that house belongs to Gabriel Agreste.”

“I remember.” Chat said coldly, “the Collector.  One of our more difficult Akumas.”

“That’s not why I’m here.” Ladybug rubbed her arms. It was out of habit, she wasn’t cold. “His son, Adrien, hasn’t been seen in a awhile.”

“If you miss him, there are plenty of billboards with his purr-ty boy face.” Chat offered bitterly. "Never pegged you as a fan though.”

His hostility surprised her.

“It’s not that,” She continued, ignoring his tone. “His friends are worried.  They haven’t been able to reach him. He was pulled from the school’s roster without any explanation.”

This information seemed to surprise Chat. He opened his mouth to speak, then shut it again.

“Look, I’ve met Adrien before.” Ladybug explained. “He’s a good person. A good friend.”

“His friends would be better off without him.”  Chat crossed his arms. “From what I hear, he’s quite the coward.”

Oh shit! That stung. Ladybug replayed her balcony conversation with Chat in her head. Back then, she was bitter. Angry. Did she say Adrien’s name back then? It probably wouldn’t have been hard to figure out.  Chat was clever. Oh no, she realized, did she turn Chat against Adrien?

“Adrien has a complicated home life, but he’s amazing, kind, and selfless. He always sees the best in people.”

“Sounds like a pussy,” Chat muttered.

“Hey! Stop that right now!”  Ladybug glared. “You don’t know him!”

“If he’s so great,” Chat replied bitterly, with a cold smirk on his face. “Why didn’t you give him the snake miraculous? Don’t tell me you never found him.”

Damn. That’s right. Back in the sewers, Chat helped her look for him.

Chat crossed his arms triumphantly, “I fought with Viperion and he sure as hell wasn’t Adrien Agreste.”

How could she explain it? The poor boy tried his best. For months!  It was always her fault, never his. They should have waited for Chat. But she wanted so desperately to fight alongside Adrien, the boy she loved. Ladybug winced at the memory.

“Please stop!” She pleaded, her voice strained and high. “You have no idea what he went through. He didn’t fail me, I failed him. And I’m worried about him now!”

Chat stood in front of her, silent.

“Please, help me, Chat.” Ladybug walked forward and took his hand. He only stared at her coldly. “Together, we can look for him.  You have night vision, a better sense of smell, and with two people, we could cover a lot more ground.

She squeezed his hand tenderly.

“He needs our help. We can find him.” Ladybug’s eyes pleaded with his. “We can bring him home.”

Chat tore his hand out of hers, as he backed away. “Has it occurred to you that maybe pretty boy doesn’t want to be found?”

Huh?

“What is wrong with you?” Ladybug demanded. “This isn’t like you. A civilian needs our help.”

“Millions of people in the city, Ladybug.” Chat opened his arms wide, gesturing to the skyline. “We can’t help them all.”

Ladybug could only stare at him. How could she explain it? She couldn’t reveal that Adrien was her friend outside of the mask.  She couldn’t explain to Chat what Adrien had done for her.

After a few moments of silence, Chat spoke first. “Don’t worry about him, Ladybug. He doesn’t deserve it.”

Using his baton, Chat launched himself into the night, leaving Ladybug alone on an empty roof.

——

Chat ran around in a big loop away from Ladybug. When he realized she wasn’t following him, he headed back to his usual spot. He dropped his transformation as soon as his feet hit the roof of the pool.  Without Plagg’s power aiding his strength, he felt weak and dizzy.  Adrien struggled to keep his balance.  Plagg flew out in front of him.

“What was that !” He threw his arms up.“When you said you were going to talk to Ladybug, I thought it was to ask for help, not pick a fight.”

“I need her to stop looking for Adrien.” He shrugged and walked over to his bag.  He sat down on a flatten stack of cardboard boxes and rested his head against the mechanical box.

“By attacking and insulting yourself?” Plagg crossed his arms. “She’s more likely to think Chat Noir found Adrien and threw him in the Seine.”

Adrien tried to laugh, but only a hacking cough came out. Once the coughing faded, he looked over to his kwami. “Not a bad idea.” He grinned bitterly.  “Dear Ladybug, after much consideration and after talking with Marinette Dupain-Cheng, I have decided to throw Adrien Agreste into the Seine. Please stop looking for him.”

Plagg buried his face in his arms, muttering some obscenities in a language Adrien didn’t understand. After a few moments, he floated in front of Adrien’s eyes.

“She wants to help you.” The tiny god said gently. “Help you desperately need.”

“I don’t need help,” Adrien responded, curling up next to his bag. “I can manage.”

“No, you can’t!”

Adrien closed his eyes and turned away from Plagg.

“You didn’t even bother looking for food yesterday. And you didn’t touch the cheese I brought back for you.”

“You stole it.” Adrien meekly accused.

“They were going to throw it away, I saved it”

Adrien was too tired to argue with his kwami. He was pretty sure Plagg was lying anyway.

Plagg settled himself in the crook of Adrien’s neck.

“Adrien, please,” he spoke softly. “You can’t keep going on like this.  You’re cold, you’re sick.”

Adrien pretended not to hear him, focusing on keeping his breaths even and shallow. It was easier not to cough that way.

“Just one night, Adrien,” Plagg begged, “Let me find you somewhere warm for just tonight.”

He felt Plagg nuzzle into his neck. Adrien realized his kwami could have easily detransformed during his roof side talk with Ladybug. He was grateful he hadn’t.  From the sounds of it, she would have brought him straight to his father.

Adrien shifted, pulling a piece of cardboard over himself. If Ladybug was looking for him, she might search the rooftops. He couldn’t let her find him. 

Not now.



Chapter Text

 A sharp pain jolted Adrien out of his sleep.  He glared down and the offending finger to see Plagg’s jaws clamped tightly around it.

“What the hell, Plagg?”

“You weren’t waking up when I tried nicely.”

“Take a hint,” Adrien grunted. “Let me sleep.”

“No!” His kwami argued. “It’s already past the warmest part of the day. You need to get up and find food.”

“I’m sick.” Adrien shrugged “I’ll find food when I feel better.”

“You won’t feel better until you eat!” Plagg was darting back and forth in front of Adrien’s face. “Or at least eat some of the food I brought you. I’ve been chasing pigeons away all afternoon.”

Adrien looked over at Plagg’s stash. It had grown since he saw it last. In addition to cheese, there were bags of nuts, protein bars, a banana, salami, chocolates, juice boxes, and a packaged sandwich.  All stolen from a market down the block, Adrien was sure.

“I’m not hungry right now.” Adrien repositioned himself, trying to get the sunlight out of his eyes. “Don’t bite me again.”

“Don’t go back to sleep, Adrien!” Plagg cried out, concerned. “I’m scared you won’t wake up.”

Adrien looked at his kwami through narrowed eyes.  He wasn’t mad, but his eyes were dry and the bright sunlight hurt them.  Poor Plagg, he was starting to look really scared.

“Hey, Plagg?” Adrien said gently, closing his eyes again. “If something were to happen to me, you could take my ring back to Ladybug, right?”

“I don’t like where this conversation is going.”

“Please,” Adrien’s voice was calm and thoughtful. “Please promise me you’ll take it back to her.”

“No!”

Adrien opened his eyes again, just to squint at the tiny cat god. Plagg was floating in front of his face again, baring his tiny teeth and glaring.

“I will NOT take your ring off your dead body.” Adrien wasn’t sure he’d ever seen Plagg so angry. “When the police find your corpse, I’m sure they’ll return it to your father. I guess good ol’ Gabriel will have your ring then.  And there’s a man who should NEVER have a miraculous!”

Adrien briefly pictured his father in a leather-clad black cat outfit.  It was ridiculous really. He would have chuckled, but all that came out was a hacking cough.

That damn cough. All of the muscles in his abdomen ached in protest.  His bruised ribs protested as his lungs revolted against the cold air.

“Please, Adrien.” Plagg changed his tone, speaking softly now. “Don’t give up.” He pleaded, “You’re not thinking clearly. You’re sick, you’re feverish.,.”

“Ha.” Adrien said dryly, “I’m too cold to have a fever.”

Plagg floated next to his cheek and gently touched him. “Please, Adrien. Don’t do this,” Plagg pleaded. “You’re worth saving.”

Adrien sighed. He knew Plagg cared for him and would miss him if he were gone.  Adrien hated disappointing his good friend.  In the past three years, Plagg had done so much for him.  He was a constant companion in his father’s cold lonely house.  Because of Plagg, he was able to escape the confines of his father’s constant expectations.  He could be Chat Noir!  As Chat Noir, he could go where he liked, and make terrible puns, and not worry about being the perfect son.  He didn’t want to hurt his friend, but he was just… so… tired.

“Do this for me, Plagg,” Adrien continued, ignoring his earlier protests. “I can’t leave Ladybug on her own.”

Plagg didn’t look at him.

“Please?” He begged.

“Alright” Plagg sighed sadly. “I promise I’ll do it.” He paused for a moment. “On one condition, though. Take me to the Tom & Sabine Boulangerie Patisserie. I want to have their cheese danish.”

“You’re trying to get me to go to Marinette’s,” Adrien complained weakly. “That’s on the other side of the city.

“Nah… I’m just thinking with my stomach.” Plagg rubbed his stomach to demonstrate. “Those cheese danishes are the best in Paris.”

Adrien huddled in his jacket tighter.  He had a feeling this was Plagg’s last-ditch effort to get Adrien to go for help. Wouldn’t make a difference though. He didn’t want Marinette’s help.  Still, Adrien needed to know his ring would make it back to his lady, just in case he didn’t get better.

Adrien groaned. It’s not like he wanted to die, but the idea just didn’t bother him anymore. He was just so tired, and so cold.  His body was sore from the constant coughing and shivering. He didn’t want to leave Plagg. He didn’t want to leave his lady.  But he didn’t want to be in pain anymore either.

“If you want to me to promise to take Ladybug your miraculous,” Plagg insisted, crossing his arms, “that is my condition.”

Adrien sighed.

“Okay, Plagg, we’ll go.” He said as he closed his eyes again. “Tonight, after they’re all asleep.  Wake me up when it’s time to go.”

___

Late Sunday night, Marinette was in a dreamless sleep.  The days and nights of reconnaissance had finally caught up with her. She barely was able to climb the ladder to her loft bed before exhaustion pulled her into sleep.  Her body was slow to register Tikki shaking her shoulder.

“Marinette! Wake up! It’s Adrien.”

“What.. huh? What happened?” Marinette murmured into her pillow, “what time is it?”

“He’s outside!”

Marinette eyes flew open. She threw off her covers, jumped up, and opened her hatch.  She pulled herself up through the opening and ran to the balcony railing.  Peering over the side, she saw a figure in a dirty yellow jacket, leaning against the outside wall of the bakery.

It’s him! Oh my God, He’s here!

“Adrien!” Marinette yelled down to him.

The figured jumped. He then banged his hand on the wall and said something she couldn’t quite hear.

“Adrien!” Marinette called again, “stay right there, I’ll be down in a minute!”

Adrien looked up briefly, then he turned and began sprinting down the street.

No! He can’t leave.

“Tikki, Spots…”

“No!” Tikki cut her off. “He’s scared of Ladybug right now. You need to go to him as Marinette.”

“Huh?” Marinette’s groggy brain was confused. “Why would he be scared of…?”

“No time to explain, just go!”

Marinette jumped down from her loft bed. Then, without grabbing her shoes or jacket, raced down the ladder of her bedroom and down the flights of stairs.

She ran into the street, barefoot and frantic.

“Tikki! Tikki! Where did he go?” Marinette was panicking now.

“I don’t know Marinette. Maybe down by the river?”

“Tikki! I can’t lose him,”  Marinette pleaded. “I need to transform"

“Okay, but you need to be very…”

“Tikki! Spots on!”

Marinette felt the familiar rush of magic overtake her body.  She grabbed her yo-yo and leaped to a nearby roof.  She would be able to see him better there.  A dirty yellow jacket should be easy to spot, even in the darkness.

Ladybug jumped from rooftop to rooftop.  She used her yo-yo to swing down deep to search into alleys.  She made good time checking all the streets nearby, it was clear he was no longer running.  He must have found a hiding spot.  She jumped down to the street to check behind trashcans and in doorways. After she was sure the streets were clear, Ladybug headed to the park.

The park was dimly lit this time of night. Yes, she thought, this would make a good hiding spot. She heard a muffled coughing from behind a bush. If she hadn’t heard the noise, she never would have noticed the shapeless yellow jacket hiding under the branches.

She walked over to Adrien cautiously, trying to make her steps as silent as possible. He was lying on his side, feet curled up to his chest, arm over his face. She could tell from the jerky movement of his back he was trying to keep from coughing.  He had a dirty cap covering his blond hair, his clothes were soiled and torn, and he had a battered duffle bag on his back.  How was this the same bright smiling boy she saw just two weeks ago?  A tightness started in her chest as she fought tears from forming in her eyes.

What happened to you, Adrien?

She knelt down beside him and gently touched his shoulder.  He jerked at the touch, pulling his arm away from his face.  Ladybug barely recognized him.  His eyes were sunken and bloodshot, his lips were chapped and scabbed, wisps of dirty facial hair dotted his chin and upper lip.  He stared at her, blinking in the meager light. His green eyes locked with her blue ones.

Ladybug swallowed hard and held out her hand. “Come, Adrien,” she coaxed softly, “let’s get you home.”

A hand came out of nowhere to shove her off balance. Ladybug fell backward and hit the ground with her bottom. It surprised her, but it didn’t hurt. Adrien quickly shot up to his feet, grabbed his bag, and started staggering away.

“Hey!” Ladybug called out, “What’s wrong with you!?”

Adrien didn’t answer. He just kept on walking, no longer trying to hide the coughs that shook his body.

Ladybug jumped up and ran over in front of him.  She stood in his way and grabbed his arm.  “Adrien, talk to me.”

He pulled his arm back and swatted her hand away. “I’m not going back,” Adrien stated drying between coughs. He adjusted his bag then walked around her.

“Adrien, please! Your friends are worried!”

“I am nobody’s friend! Friends can be there for each other, they help each other.” He turned and gestured toward his chest. “I can’t help anyone! And I’m done with them worrying about me.” Adrien continued walking ahead, turning down toward the street by the river.  His steps were uneven and strained, coughs escaped his chest.

“You need help!” Ladybug called after him. “You’re dirty and sick. You… you smell like garbage!”

“I am garbage!” He spat at her. “And I rather stay garbage than go back...” Adrien growled.

“I don’t understand,” Ladybug asked, confused. “Why don’t you want to go back?”

“None of your business,” He responded dryly. “You don’t know me.’’

“Please, if you don’t want to go home, let me take you to a hospital,” she pleaded. “It’s cold, you’re sick. Please, Adrien, you could die out here!”

“He’d find me there!” Adrien responded, “I’d rather die under the stars than live in a cage.” Adrien threw open his hands to the sky, twirling in a delirious dance.

Adrien spun a few moments more,  then sank to his knees in a fit of coughs.

"Please, let’s just get you somewhere safe,” Ladybug begged. “We can worry about your father later.”

Ladybug knelt beside him, she put an arm across his shoulders and hooked her other arm under his knees.  She stood up slowly, cradling him to her body.

Abruptly, his elbow slammed against her sternum as he twisted out of her hold.  Adrien fell to the ground on all fours, then tumbled into a run.

Ladybug threw up her hands, “What are you? A cat?”

“Leave me alone.” He yelled back, his voice hoarse.

Ladybug took after him. She was just about to grab him again when he launched his bag towards her. It hit her square in the chest, hard.  The bag didn’t hurt her, but it’s momentum threw her off-balance.

He was several seconds ahead of her now, running straight for the railing separating the street from the river.

I’d rather die under the stars than live in a cage. His words echoed in her mind

NO!

Ladybug was too far away to reach him in time. If he hit the water, she could never find him again. If she had Chat’s night vision, maybe she would have a chance, but there was no way she could search the dark waters if Adrien jumped.

Ladybug grabbed her yo-yo and launched it towards his feet. The weapon found its target and wrapped itself tightly around his ankles. Adrien fell forward, hard, collapsing in a spasm of coughs.

“Oh no, Adrien!” Ladybug ran over to him. “I’m so so sorry!” Adrien was curled up in a fetal position struggling to regain control of his breathing. Awkwardly, Ladybug knelt down and rubbed his back until his breath steadied again.

Once the spasm passed, Adrien rolled over onto his back and glared at her. Then, without warning, Adrien brought his knees to his chest and kicked her with all his strength. Ladybug was launched backward. She fell on to her back but quickly rolled on to her feet again.

When she looked up, Adrien was staggering toward the railing again.

No, no, no, no, no,…

Ladybug ran to Adrien. Grabbing him roughly, she pulled him tightly against her. Then, she hurled herself high above the Seine.  She launched her yo-yo toward the furthest building in range.  Once it found its target, Ladybug pulled the cord back harder than she ever dared before.  Even with her enhanced stamina, Ladybug struggled against the G forces caused by the rapid acceleration.  

The boy in her grasp never stood a chance. She felt Adrien’s body go limp in her arms.



Chapter Text

Ladybug opened her hatch and gently lowered Adrien down by his arms. His feet folded under him and he slumped into a pile on top of Marinette’s bed. Ladybug jumped down and started untangling his limbs.

“This is my friend Marinette’s place, she can take care of you.” Ladybug gently cradled Adrien’s head and set it on her pillow.

“I’ll umm… go find her.” Ladybug pointed to her room.

Adrien lay motionless

“Adrien?” Ladybug patted his cheek, trying to rouse him.  “Hey, if you can hear me, please say something.” Panic started rising within her. Ladybug grabbed his collar and shook him firmly.

“Adrien, wake up!” She demanded.

She stopped to see if there was any reaction, but there wasn’t. Adrien lay still, too still.

“Tikki spots off!” Her suit dissolved and her tiny kwami floated in front of her. Marinette placed her hand on Adrien’s neck, checking for a pulse. His skin was cold and clammy. She moved her hand around frantically, not even sure where she was supposed to push.

“He’s alive, Marinette,” Tikki assured, “I can tell.”

“Oh god! Tikki! He’s so cold,” she patted his cheek again, “why won’t he wake up?”

“He’s exhausted, and you forced him to pass out,” Tikki responded. “You weren’t supposed to scare him.”

“He was trying to jump in the river!” Marinette lifted Adrien’s eyelid. His pupil drifted to the corner of his eye. Was that supposed to mean something?

“Marinette, calm down. Adrien needs our help now.”

“He needs a hospital!”

“Do you think that is what he wants?”

“I don’t know Tikki,” both of Marinette’s hands were on his chest now, shaking him back and forth. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Let’s get him warm first.”

Marinette looked at the unconscious boy on her bed. His clothes were damp and filthy. The smell was becoming overwhelming in the small space. His shoes were soaked.

“You need to get him into some dry clothes.”

Marinette grimaced. Tikki couldn’t be suggesting she take off his clothes.  Sure they were dirty and damp. Maybe she should get her father to help. Would that make him an accessory to kidnapping? Obviously, Adrien needed to get warm and dry,… but could she…?

“Marinette, please focus.”

“Okay.” She slapped her cheeks, she could do this. Shoes first.

She crawled down to the foot of her bed and untied his shoes, when she pulled them off, tiny bits of paper flew everywhere. The stench was overwhelming. Marinette covered her nose with her elbow.  Even in the pale light, she could see the patches of dried blood on his feet. Oh, Adrien… Marinette blinked tears out of her eyes. She could cry later, right now, Adrien needed her.

Marinette turned her attention to his jacket. His body swam in it, and the long sleeves covered his hands. The oversized jacket made him look like a child. A boy playing in his father’s clothes.  Marinette sniffed and wiped her nose with the back of her forearm. You can do this, girl.

She carefully unzipped the yellow jacket and the hoodie underneath.  She placed her hand on his sternum and felt the steady rise and fall of his chest. Tikki had told her that he was alive, but this was the first proof she saw. The relief was fleeting, though. He’s cold, too cold…

Marinette rolled him from side to side, removing his arms from his jackets. She grabbed Adrien’s arms and hoisted him into a sitting position. His limp body leaned against her as she peeled off his damp t-shirt.

She laid him back down as tenderly as she could.  His stocking cap was pulled off with his shirt. His hair didn’t even seem blond anymore. It was plastered to his head in a greasy dirty tangled mess. Marinette stared at his naked chest. Adrien was always lean, but not like this.  In the meager light, his skin looked paper-thin, revealing the muscles and ribs underneath.  Marinette heart broke as she watched his ribs moving under his skin as he inhaled and exhaled.

Marinette! Focus!” Tikki instructed, floating in front of her.

Marinette’s eyes drifted downward to Adrien’s pants.  “Tikki,” she looked up at her kwami horrified, “I don’t think I can do this.”

“Yes, you can!” Tikki grabbed the corner of her blanket. “Just keep him covered.”

Marinette bit her lip as she threw the blanket over Adrien’s middle. She closed her eyes and turned her head as she reached under the blanket. Her fingertips inching toward Adrien’s waistband. This is wrong, this is wrong, this is so so wrong! Marinette pulled his waistband away from his stomach. She bit her lip harder and winced as she unbuttoned and unzipped his fly. Please forgive me, Adrien, Marinette silently begged.

She moved her hands over to Adrien’s sides.  She gently hooked her fingers into both of the waistbands of his pants and boxers. Okay,.. okay… she thought. trying to calm herself.

“Tikki…?” Marinette whined, losing her nerve.

“You’re doing great, Marinette!”

Marinette closed her eyes tighter as she took a deep breath. One side at a time she gingerly coaxed Adrien’s remaining clothes off his body.  The clamminess of his skin and the dampness of his clothes made it a slow arduous process. When she finally cleared his ankles, she quickly threw the garments on the floor and buried her face in her hands.

Oh god! Adrien’s naked in my bed! I knocked him out and stripped him naked! Oh god! Oh god! Marinette didn’t want to imagine how many laws she broke tonight.

“Marinette?”

She peaked through her fingers to see Tikki holding up a pair of cupcake-patterned pajama bottoms.  They were an older pair, and the elastic of the waistband was worn and stretched. But they were clean, and they were warm.

Marinette grabbed the bottoms from her kwami, and shut her eyes again. Using the same process in reverse, she inched the garment up Adrien’s legs side by side. When she got to the top of his legs, Marinette reached under his back to lift his hips. She quickly slid the pajamas into place. Then, she finally opened her eyes.

She looked at Adrien. He looked better now without his tattered clothes.  He had a peaceful expression on his face as he slept. Such a welcome contrast to the glares and snarls his face wore earlier. Marinette shook her head, trying to clear the memory of their fight.

Marinette gathered all her blankets and tucked them around his body. She hoped he’d wake up soon. Marinette gently stroked his cheek with the back of his fingers. Hopefully, he wouldn’t be too curious how he got here. Or, wonder why Ladybug showed up after Marinette saw him on the street.

Marinette crawled down from her loft and gathered up Adrien’s clothes. Dear god! They reeked! They smelled like mildew and body odor and… pool? Where were you, Adrien? she wondered sadly.

“Tikki? Can you watch Adrien for a few minutes?” Marinette asked. “I need to go downstairs.”

Tikki nodded and flew back up to the loft bed.

Marinette headed straight downstairs and to the washing machine in their kitchen. She dumped Adrien’s clothes inside with more than enough detergent, and set it to wash on hot. Even then, she wasn’t sure that would take care of the smell.

Okay. Food. Marinette wasn’t sure if Adrien had eaten in a while. It didn’t look like it. What would be easy on his stomach?  She opened up a box of broth, dumped it into a pot, and set it to warm up on the stove.

Next, Marinette grabbed a tray and opened the refrigerator. Hmm… What could she give him without arousing suspicion from her parents?  She smiled when she saw her mother’s salmon quiche. Adrien liked that before, didn’t he?  She grabbed that, two hardboiled eggs, some cheese, some leftover stir fry, and some grapes.  Marinette knew Adrien also liked her family’s pastries, but all of that was down in the bakery.  She could always grab some later.

Marinette patiently waited for the broth to heat up on the stove. Once it was warm enough to drink, she poured it into a thermos, and then quickly washed and dried the pot.  When she was finished, she picked up the tray and headed back upstairs to her room.

After setting the tray on her desk, Marinette climbed the ladder to her loft bed. Tikki was sitting on Adrien’s chest, watching him closely. Marinette crawled over and put her hand on his forehead.  He didn’t react to the touch.

“Tikki?” Marinette looked over to the tiny god, alarmed. “Why is he still so cold?”

“He’s really weak,” Tikki explained. “He might not be able to warm up on his own.”

Marinette gulped. Adrien needed a hospital. He needed so much more than just…than just… her. A horrifying image flashed through her mind. She remember Adrien sprinting straight toward the Seine. The memory terrified her. It chilled her to her core. No, she couldn’t take him to the hospital, not now.  Adrien would rather die than be found.

It frustrated her. Marinette didn’t understand, she just didn’t understand! Marinette took a deep breath and sighed. But maybe she didn’t need to. She could still be there for her friend.  And there was something more she could do.

Marinette pulled the covers back and slid in beside Adrien.  She rolled him onto his side and pulled his back to her.  Marinette’s body revolted at the coldness of his skin. She snaked her arm under his neck and wrapped the other around his waist.  She held him tightly against her and winced at the cold.  Marinette rested her cheek against his back. His skin smelled like mildew, but she ignored it.

“Adrien? You need to warm up, okay?” Marinette knew he couldn’t hear her, but she continued to talk anyway.

“Your friends love you.” She told him. “They’ve missed you so much.”

Marinette gathered his icy cold fingers in her hands. She massaged them gently, trying to get the blood flowing. “I’m so sorry, Adrien. I never knew things were so bad.”

Marinette felt her teeth start to chatter, but she continued to push her body into his.  “You don’t have to bare this on your own, anymore.”

“Please wake up.”

 

 

Adrien was dead. 

It didn’t really surprise him, not really.  He knew the way things were going, death was going to find him one way or the other.  He thought it would have been illness or exposure.  He never imaged it would be Ladybug that killed him.

He hoped Plagg brought his ring back to her.  His kwami got his cheese danishes after all.  He even took his sweet time and refused to come out of the bakery when Marinette discovered him.  If he’d been able to transform, Chat Noir could have easily gotten away from Ladybug.

It was strange that people feared death.  Death was nice. It was warm, and the air didn’t hurt his lungs.  Adrien snuggled deeper into fluffy comfort. Yes, this was very nice.

Adrien felt his shoulders being lifted and his head cradled against something soft.  Something was placed at his mouth. It wasn’t until the wetness touched his lips that he realized how thirsty he was.  The liquid was rich, full-bodied, and slightly salty. Adrien drank slowly at first, then it felt like he couldn’t get enough. He tipped his head forward trying to drink faster. Annoyingly, the vessel was taken from his lips. Adrien felt himself being lowered back down.

Adrien licked his lips, then rubbed them together. There was something on them. Lip balm, perhaps? It was cherry or something. It had a familiar taste.

Adrien sighed and turned his head into the softness.  He hoped his lady would be okay.  He also hoped she wouldn’t blame herself for his death.  Adrien didn’t blame her.  He knew Ladybug was only trying to do what was right.  Returning a lost boy to his home. She had no idea what he was running from.

Though, with him gone, she’d have to find another black cat. Adrien frowned. Now, that thought made him a bit sad.  He felt they were good together. They were Paris’s superhero team. They had a level of understanding that few ever shared. He didn’t want to leave her alone, but he didn’t want to be replaced either.

Adrien felt something cool wipe is forehead. It felt nice. It was warm here, in death. Almost too warm. The cloth felt refreshing. 

Someone was here with him. Adrien smiled. Sure, it wasn’t the pearly gates or choruses of angels, but it still was nice to know he wasn’t alone.

Fingers gently stroked the hair off his brow. Adrien felt tears form under his closed eyes.  He remembered this! It had been years, but he could never forget her touch. Of course, she would be here too. Adrien’s throat tightened in a sob.

“Mom?” he whispered.

“Shhhhh…” her voice called out. “Just rest.” It had been so long since Adrien heard his mother’s voice. It sounded foreign to his ears.

“Mom!” He cried out louder.  Adrien arms reached for her. She was right there, lying beside him. He pulled her to him, burying his face in her neck, sobs ripping out of his throat.

He had found her again! She felt small in his arms. Almost too tiny. No, he thought as he squeezed tears from his eyes, I’ve grown. Adrien was 13 when he saw her last. He had grown since had seen her.  Three years. So much had happened in those three years. His mom never got a chance to see him go to school, or to meet his friends. What would she think of Chat Noir?

His mother’s arms wrapped around him, gently rubbing his back.  “Shhh…” she coaxed.

“I’ve missed you so much.” Adrien rested his forehead against her shoulder.  “I’ve learned to play Claire de Lune from memory.” Adrien was trying to think of all the things he had wanted to tell his mother over the past years. “I’ve won fencing tournaments. My Chinese tutor says I’m his most advanced student.”

His mother was stroking his face now. Gently wiping away his tears.

“For years, I hated waking up,” Adrien whispered softly. “Because then, I would remember all over again. -That you’re gone.” He inhaled against her, trying to remember her smell. “It was like a part of me being torn away every morning. But now..? now?” Adrien paused for a new round of sobs to pass. “Some mornings I don’t remember at all, and that’s so much worse! Mom, I’m so sorry!”

His mother was crying now. He could feel her soft sniffles and sobs against his body. No… he didn’t want to make her sad.

Adrien took a deep shaky breath, trying to brace himself. “Why did you leave?” He choked out the words, scared of the answer. He was terrified, but he needed to know. “Was it because of me?”

The hand on his face stopped moving.

“I’ve tried so hard to be good.” Adrien gripped his mother harder now.  “But father… but father…” The tightness in his throat made his voice strained and tight. “He changed after you left. I’m so sorry... I couldn’t stay anymore.”

His mother was quiet. Why didn’t she say anything?

“Did I do something wrong?” Adrien asked again, his tiny voice pleading for an answer.

“Tell me.” He begged, “...please?”

Adrien felt his mother kiss his forehead. “..I never wanted to leave you, Adrien.” The voice spoke quietly. “It wasn’t your fault.”

He melted into her as years of tension released from his body.  His mother was holding him against her chest now, rocking him slowly.  She cradled him as well her smaller body could. She stroked his hair and kissed his face as Adrien wept.

When the tears no longer came, Adrien sighed into her arms. “I’m glad I found you,” he whispered. Sleep was starting to take hold again.

“I’m glad I died.”

Chapter Text

Adrien shifted his body, trying to find a more comfortable position.  Something wasn’t right.  He tried to snuggle into the fluffy softness of death, but something still felt off.  There was a smell of bread, fresh bread. Adrien found that very distracting.  It was a good smell, but why was it here?

He flopped onto his back. Nope. This was worse. Adrien turned to his side again, wincing. It was supposed to be comfortable here. He was dead. He wasn’t suppose to feel stupid bodily discomforts. Adrien groaned. It didn’t make sense. Why couldn’t he get comfortable? Why did it smell like bread? And dammit, why the hell did he have to pee?

Adrien’s eyes flew open.  He blinked and stared straight ahead at the back of two pigtails.

“Ladybu…?” he began before a fit of coughs escaped from his chest.

A towel was immediately brought to his mouth to muffle the sound. “No,” a voice whispered, “It’s Marinette.”

Oh, no. Why her? Adrien wondered how the hell Plagg had pulled this off. Last he remembered, Ladybug was trying to capture him. Did Plagg tell her to bring him here? That must have been an awkward conversation. Wonder how Ladybug felt about finding out it was Chat Noir sick and pathetic on the streets? He squeezed his fingers together, checking to make sure his ring was still there. At least she wasn’t that disappointed.

When his breathing steadied, he looked over to Marinette. Even in the moonlight, she looked worried. Her big eyes full of concern. He shouldn’t be here. He had to find Plagg and leave.  He had to find out what happened to his stuff,… He had to… He had to…

“I have to pee,” Adrien blurted out, realizing all his other problems could wait.

“Oh, yes, of… of course.” She stammered. Even in the darkness, it seemed like she was blushing. “Follow me. My parents should be already in the bakery.”

Marinette slid out from the covers and turned toward the ladder of her loft bed.  Adrien’s eyes fell to the curves of her bottom as she crawled away. It was a nice view. He was overcome with a feeling of déjà vu.

Adrien moved to climb down after her. Oh god! He wasn’t sure if he ever had to pee so bad in his life. Once he reached the floor, he had to pause. The room started spinning around him. Adrien closed his eyes and grabbed onto the ladder for support.

He felt Marinette grab his arm. “Hey, Adrien,” she spoke gently, “take it easy.” She slung his arm over her shoulder and wrapped the other around his waist. “We can go slow.”

They slowly made their way toward the hatch of her room.  Adrien felt Marinette’s soft skin on his back before he realized he was shirtless. Luckily, she didn’t seem to mind. 

Carefully, they climbed down the stairs, the wood planks groaned loudly with each step. The downstairs apartment was dark, but the memory of Sabine turning on the light was fresh in his mind. He tried to walk to the bathroom as fast as he could.

Once inside the bathroom, Marinette let go of his waist and arm.  She closed the door gently, before resting her forehead against it. “I’m sorry,” she whispered softly. “I’ll give you as much privacy as I can. But I can’t have my parents find you here.”

Privacy was the last thing on Adrien’s mind as he made his way over to the toilet.  Dear god! Sweet, sweet bliss.  He couldn’t control the audible groan of relief as he emptied his bladder.  It wasn’t until he finished that he noticed the cupcake pajama bottoms he was wearing.

“Um,..” he began awkwardly. “What happened to my clothes.”

Marinette didn’t turn around. If anything, it was if she was trying to make herself even smaller. “They were wet and smelly. Ladybug helped me change you.” She admitted shyly. “You were under a blanket, we didn’t see anything.”

“Oh…” Adrien was grateful for that. He wasn’t modest. God knows he was used to people seeing his body in all manner of undressed. But, being cold and wet, he knew he couldn’t have been a very impressive sight. He was glad his lady didn’t see.

"You umm... you could take a shower?” Marinette suggested.  “I’ll make sure no one comes in.”

Suddenly, Adrien was painfully aware of his body odor. He grimaced in embarrassment. “Yes, umm, thank you,” he responded politely.

Adrien turned on the faucet and kicked off his bottoms.  Once he stepped into the warm running water, he couldn’t help but sigh with pleasure. It felt amazing!   Adrien washed every part of his body twice. The soap stung the sores of his skin, but he didn’t care.  Adrien lathered and rinsed his hair several times to get the griminess out. He even rubbed in some conditioner to help with the tangles.

He wished he could stay in the shower longer. Long showers were a pleasure of his. His luxurious shower stall was his sanctuary at his father’s. Still, even in this tiny bathroom, he was pretty sure this was the best shower of his life. He didn’t want it to end, but he didn’t want Marinette’s parents to get suspicious either.

“I’m getting out now,” Adrien called to her softly. He didn’t want her parents to hear in case they were in the apartment.

He stepped out of the shower and looked over to his friend. She was still over at the door. Her forehead firmly pushed against it. She hadn’t moved in 20 minutes. The entire time Adrien had been in the shower.  He appreciated that she wanted to protect his modesty, but it seemed a bit overkill.

Adrien grabbed a towel and wiped off his face and chest before wrapping it around his waist. “I’m decent now,” he told her, “you can turn around.”

Marinette turned around but didn’t look at him. She simply stared at the floor silently.

Well, this just got awkward.

Adrien scratched at his face, trying to think of something to say.  Even clean, his face was itchy.  His nails scratched at the patches of facial hair. It had been a while since Adrien had seen himself in a mirror, but he doubted the whiskers were a good addition.

“Do you have a razor I could use?” He finally broke the silence.

That seemed to snap Marinette out of whatever daze she was in. “Um,.. sure, I have mine.” She walked over to the shower and reached behind the curtain.  Once she found what she was looking for, she walked back over to Adrien. Never looking at him directly.

She handed him the tiny pink razor. “I think my dad has some shaving cream in the medicine cabinet.” Marinette offered, not meeting his eyes.

“Thank you,” Adrien whispered softly as he took the razor.  He wished she would look at him. That would make things less weird.

“I,.. um... I should shower too.” With that, Marinette turned around, pulled back the shower curtain, climbed into the shower fully clothed, then closed the curtain behind her.

Adrien’s heart started to beat faster as he heard the telltale sounds of Marinette removing her pajamas.  The shower curtain was opaque, so Adrien couldn’t see anything. But it was unsettling knowing his friend was naked, less than a meter away.  No... Adrien slapped his cheeks, ‘unsettling’ wasn’t the right word. He wasn’t going to think of the right word right now. Nope.

He heard the water turn on. Marinette gave a tiny gasp as it hit her skin.  I guess the water was cold when it came out. Great, now his friend was naked, wet, less than a meter away, and making sexy gasping sounds.

Adrien groaned to himself. He knew he was still sick and weak, he shouldn’t be thinking of Marinette like that. God knows what she thought of him at this point.

Adrien wiped the condensation off the mirror and looked at his reflection. It was the first time he’d seen himself in awhile. He blinked at the image staring back at him.  His eyes were bloodshot and his lips were cracked and split. He rubbed them together. Hmm,.. they didn’t hurt. There was something on them. Could Marinette have put lip balm on them while he slept? How out of it was he?

Come to think of it... he didn’t remember passing out. Did he faint in the middle of his fight with Ladybug? Adrien grimaced with embarrassment.  If she learned his identity, he might never hear the end of it.

Adrien stepped backward to see more of himself.  He could tell he’d lost weight. The muscles of his shoulders and chest were highly defined and sinewy. He raised his arms and flexed his abdomen. The muscles rippled under his skin. Ha, Father! More ripped than ever and no photoshoot, he thought bitterly.

He heard the water cascade of Marinette in waves. She must be washing her hair now, Adrien mused. He could picture the soapy water slowly traveling from her head down to her shoulders, down to her...

Stop it, please! Adrien begged his imagination.

Okay, just concentrate on shaving. Adrien easily found the shaving cream and lathered his face and neck. He grabbed the tiny pink razor and stared at it. I wonder what parts of Marinette’s body you’ve touched?

Damn it, Brain! Adrien whined silently, as he began scraping the hair off his upper lip.  It’s not like he’d never been around naked women before.  There was no modesty in the modeling world, and even a teenage boy could become indifferent to it.  Why should being in the same room as his naked friend bother him now?

Maybe it’s because you know what her tongue tastes like?

Adrien blushed at the memory. No, he sighed, that was Chat Noir.  Marinette doesn’t feel the same about Adrien. Chat Noir is brave, remember?

Although, Adrien thought as he rinsed his razor, she’s helping me now. She must still like Adrien a little bit. He smiled at the thought. He leaned closer to the mirror and began shaving under his jaw.

Adrien heard the faucet turn off. Through the reflection of the mirror, he saw a naked arm reach for a towel. A minute later, Marinette emerged with a towel wrapped around her middle. Her shoulders and collarbones bare. Tiny droplets of water still stuck to her skin.  She looked really pretty, wet.

He knew he was staring.  But hey, his brain was still a bit boiled right now.  Marinette’s hair was wet and slicked back away from her face. Adrien had never seen her forehead before. He smiled as he realized he had a thing for seeing a girl’s whole face. Especially the hidden bits.

Marinette fidgeted under his gaze until Adrien finally turned away. He finished rinsing his face and dried it with a hand towel.  Marinette picked up their clothes and they returned to her room. Adrien was only a little dizzy now and didn’t need Marinette’s help anymore.

Once Marinette closed her bedroom door, she instructed Adrien to sit on her chaise while she changed. A minute later, Marinette emerged from behind her screen wearing a fresh pair of pink pajamas. Is everything this girl owns pink?

Marinette walked back over to Adrien. She had a small white box in her hand.  Adrien watched her, perplexed, as she knelt in front of him, and put her towel across her lap. It wasn’t until she grabbed his ankle that he realized what she was doing.

“Hey, I don’t need…” Adrien began to protest.

“Please, Adrien?” Marinette was looking at him now, the first time in a while.  Her pretty blue eyes pleading with his.  She still held onto his ankle, her hands soft and warm. God, she was beautiful, her face full of concern. Adrien sighed, realizing there was no way he could ever refuse anything this girl asked. He closed his eyes and nodded.

Marinette placed Adrien’s foot on her lap. She opened the box and took out cotton balls, disinfectant, and bandages.  With delicate care, she cleaned and dressed Adrien’s torn skin. After she finished one foot, she did the other.

When both feet were finished, she turned her attention to Adrien’s skinned knee. I don’t remember that, thought Adrien curiously. But then again, his memory of the past few days was a bit fuzzy.

“For what its worth,” Marinette spoke softly as she dabbed the broken skin with a cotton ball. “Ladybug said she was sorry she used her yo-yo on you.”

Ah! That made sense. He fell hard when she tripped him.  Adrien frowned, he hoped she didn’t see this. He really didn’t want her to feel bad.

Adrien opened his eyes and watched her gently blow air on the wound, trying to dry the disinfectant. “Why are you doing this?” He asked before he realized what he was saying.

“So the bandage doesn’t stick.”

“No,… I mean,” Adrien spoke gently, “All of it. Why help me?”

“You’re my friend, Adrien.” Marinette peeled the paper off the back of the bandage. “Friends help each other.”

After she placed the bandage on Adrien’s knee, she sighed and looked at the floor. “And… I know what you did.” Marinette admitted shyly.

Adrien stared back at her. She knew what he did? When? On the balcony? Oh god, did she know he was Chat Noir? Did Ladybug tell her? Is that how she got Marinette to help him?

When he didn’t respond, Marinette continued. “You told my parents it was you. That night in my room.” She still didn’t look at him.

Oh yeah! Adrien half-smiled. Wow, that seemed like such a long time ago. “I wanted to help.”

”It did,” she admitted softly. “Thank you.”

Adrien’s heart swelled. He didn’t mean for her to find out, but that tiny thank you felt really really good to hear.

“Did it…?” Marinette was playing with the hem of her shirt. “Did it get you in trouble with your father?” Her voice was barely a whisper.

“No,… no, he never found out.” Adrien could see the tension release from her shoulders.  Poor thing, was she worried he ran away because of that?

“What happened?” Marinette started putting the first aid supplies back in their box. “You seemed fine one day, and then you were gone the next.”

Adrien took a deep breath and sighed. “Lots of things, really.”

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.” Marinette offered as she began picking up the pile of discarded wrappers.  “But I can be a good listener if you want me to be.” She looked up at him again, a soft expression on her face.

Adrien stared at her. He could tell she wanted to help.  He should tell her something. It wasn’t like she could think any less of him now.

Adrien took a deep breath before he spoke. “I wasn’t liking the person my father was turning me into,” Adrien admitted.  “I, umm…” Damn, why was this so hard to say? “I tried to talk to him about the photoshoots, about Lila.”

He saw Marinette stiffen at the sound of Lila’s name, but she didn’t say anything.

“But Father, he…he didn’t care…” Shit! Why was his throat so tight?

“He told me it was my job.” Adrien shook his head. “If it was a job, I would have quit a long time ago.” He squeezed his eyes shut. Not wanting to see the disgust on Marinette’s face. He was a coward, right? Not able to stand up to his father.

He felt her grab his hand and squeeze it. Adrien opened his eyes to see Marinette’s face full of worry. Without a trace of disgust.

“Adrien, you know that was very wrong of him, don’t you?” She asked gently.  Adrien shrugged and turned away.

“Hey, look at me.” She coaxed. “That was a terrible, disgusting thing your father said to you.” She paused for a moment. “It was very wrong.”

Adrien didn’t respond. The air got awkward and heavy. After a minute, Marinette stood up and walked over to a large chest against the wall. He heard her rummage for a moment before returning with a triumphant look on her face.

With a big smile, Marinette held up the most garish pair of boxer shorts Adrien had ever seen in his life. The material was shiny and bright, with every single color one could think of.  Metallic disco balls repeated every few inches against the blotchy rainbows behind them. It made Adrien wince to look at.

Marinette giggled at his reaction. "Alya found the material and convinced me Nino really needed these to be made.  They’re disco balls, see? They are going to be a bit big for you, but I can take in the waistband if you need it.” She handed them to Adrien then returned to her giant chest.

He rubbed the material between his forefinger and his thumb.  It was some cheap novelty rayon fabric. But it was soft and silky.  Adrien smiled as he imagined his friend’s reaction. It was a lot of effort for Marinette to go through for a laugh. She was amazing like that.

Adrien stood up and quickly slipped them on. He removed his towel and lightly bounced up and down.  They hung low on his hips, but didn’t fall. Sweet! Adrien was grateful Marinette wouldn’t have to make any adjustments.

He turned to her and held up his arms, excited to show her that they fit.  Marinette froze at the sight of him, mouth open.  Shit! Adrien grimace, she’s not used to your lack of modesty!   He quickly sat back on the chaise and rubbed the back of his neck. Adrien hoped he didn’t embarrass her too much.

Marinette recovered fast, and within a minute, she was standing in front of him again, smiling brightly.  “Here!” She held out her arms, clutching some black pajama tops and pants. “These should be a much better fit.”

Adrien took the garments from her and swallowed hard. The pajamas were a shiny black fabric, with an electric green piping around the collar and cuffs.  Adrien’s face softened.  He knew who these were meant for.  Adrien brought them to his face and inhaled. They even smell like her. With a closer inspection, Adrien noticed some of the inside seams were reinforced with ladybug print bias tape.  There was no reason to reinforce the seams on pajamas, it was purely decorative.

“Who did you make these for?” He asked softly, Adrien knew the answer, but he wanted her to say it anyway.

“A friend I haven’t seen in a while.” Marinette sighed softly. There was no bitterness to her voice.

"He must be a Ladybug fan.” Adrien pointed to the hidden detail and smirked.

Marinette smiled proudly. “Her number one fan, in fact.” She leaned forward and whispered. “But don’t tell Alya.”

Marinette walked over to her desk as Adrien put on the pajamas.  When she returned, she had another brilliant smile on her face. Her hands were holding a tray of food. Adrien’s face lit up at the sight.

“I wasn’t sure, what you liked, so I grabbed a bit of everything.” She said as she sat the tray down on the chaise.

“I can have all this?” Adrien asked, suddenly starving.

“It’s all for you.” Marinette beamed. “Don’t eat too fast though. I need to go down and talk with my parents.”

Adrien froze at the mention of Tom and Sabine.

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell them you’re here,” Marinette assured. “But, I need to let them know I won’t be going to school today.” She paused for another moment, watching Adrien devourer the quiche.  “Would you like me to bring up anything from the bakery?”

“A dozen chocolate croissants?” Adrien responded eagerly, his mouth full of food.

“A dozen might be a bit suspicious.” Marinette smiled at her friend’s full cheeks. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Before you go?” Adrien called out, “umm… is my bag here? I have some important documents in there.” Not to mention a grumpy kwami.

“I think Ladybug left it on the roof.” Marinette winced, “It kinda smelled.”

After Marinette left, Adrien waited an extra minute until she was no longer in earshot.

“Plagg?” He called out.

Instantly, the little kwami phased through the floor and hugged his cheek.

“Adrien!” Plagg cried, “We were so worried!”

Suddenly, the little god flew in front of his face, hands on his hips.  “What the hell was that! Were you seriously going to jump into the river?” Oh man, Plagg was angry again.

“We could have transformed underwater, Ladybug would never have found us.” Adrien winked.

“Were you seriously going to let Ladybug think she killed Adrien Agreste?” Plagg glared back.

Adrien slumped, he didn’t think of that. “I guess it wasn’t a good idea. I was just trying to get away.”

He brought his hands together and Plagg floated over to rest on them.

“How did you get me here?” Adrien asked curiously.  “Does Ladybug know who I am?”

“Nah… Ladybug brought you here on her own. I guess she knew Marinette lived nearby.”

“Hmm…” Adrien mused. “Well, it makes sense. It’s not like Ladybug could bring me to her home, is it?”

Plagg groaned and buried his face in his hands.

“Plagg?”

The kwami only grunted in response.

“You knew Marinette would help me, didn’t you? That’s why you wanted to come back here.”

“Not at all.” Plagg looked up and grinned. “I was only thinking about those cheese danishes.

“Plagg?”

“Hm?”

“Thank you.”



Chapter Text

Marinette hated lying to parents. As a superhero, she knew it came with the territory.  She lied to keep them safe, at least that’s what she told herself. And that is exactly what she’ll be doing now, Marinette thought as she made her way down the flights of stairs to the bakery.

Something wasn’t right about Mr. Agreste. He wasn’t acting the way a parent of a lost child should. And he was oddly dismissive of Adrien’s distress about Lila. Why hired private security instead of going to the police? Until Marinette learned more, she needed to keep Adrien hidden. And unfortunately, hidden from her parents as well.

Marinette sighed as she reached the bottom of the stairs. Her Mom and Dad would probably help Adrien if given the chance. That made lying so hard.

She also knew, they would be the ones to face legal repercussions for hiding a runaway teen.  Marinette couldn’t risk that. She was doing this for them. So, why did she feel so guilty?

Marinette took a deep breath and pushed open the door to the bakery.  Tom and Sabine looked up with surprise.  The smiles on their faces fell when they got a look at their daughter.

“Everything alright dear?” Sabine walked over and put a hand on her shoulder. Marinette looked up at her mom, she hated this.

“I’ve been up all night with a cough,” True, but it wasn’t her cough. “I thought taking a shower would help.”  Also true. If her parents needed to use the restroom, they wouldn’t question the wet towels or shower curtain.

“Oh honey, you look good exhausted.” Her mother looked at her with concern in her eyes. Marinette knew her mom was probably right. Between not sleeping and the unease she felt in her belly.

“I am, but I’m feeling better, I think I can make it to school.” She wasn’t really sick enough to miss school, but she hoped her mother would take the bait.

“Absolutely not!” Sabine scolded, “go back to sleep. I’ll call the school when it opens.”

“Thank you, Mom!” Marinette gave her mom a big hug. Sabine wrapped her arms around her and patted her back gently.

“Once the market opens, I’ll make that chicken ginger soup you love so much.”  She kissed the top of Marinette’s head, still holding her daughter.

Marinette melted into her touch, she loved having her mother dote on her. “It’s okay, Mom.” She assured, “I’m feeling better. I’ll probably just sleep all day today.”

“Nonsense.” Sabine playfully chided. “You’re so grown up now. It’s not every day I get a chance to baby you.” She gave Marinette one last squeeze before she let go. Marinette warmly smiled at her mom.

“Hey Dad, May I take a croissant or two?”

_____

Marinette headed back up the stairs with two fresh chocolate croissants in her hands. She felt guilty. Her mother was going to go through all the effort of making her favorite soup, and she wasn’t even sick.  Still, she smiled to herself, Adrien would probably like it. Did his mother ever made him soup when he was sick?

Marinette’s steps started to feel heavy as she climbed. An emptiness started eating at her insides. It’s been over three years since Adrien saw his mother. Would he even remember what her soup tasted like?

She sat down on the cold steps and leaned her head against the wall. Could she even imagine…? Never having her mother’s soup again? Never feeling her mother’s arms? Or her hands on her cheek? Never having her mother worry or dote on her again? Not remembering what her mother smelled like…?

Adrien’s words tore at her memory…

It was like a part of me being torn away…

Some mornings I don’t remember at all, and that’s so much worse!

Mom, I’m so sorry!

“…Tikki?” Marinette could barely choke out the words as she gazed at the ceiling. Her eyes burly with tears.  After a moment, the tiny kwami had phased through the floor.

“Yes, Marinette?” The tiny god looked up at her with big worried eyes. “What’s wrong?”

“My mom,…” Marinette tried to explain. “My mom is going to make Adrien soup.” She squeezed her fists to her forehead, clamping her eyes shut.

“Umm…” Tikki began, obviously confused, “Isn’t that a good thing?”

Marinette hugged her stomach and gently rocked herself. “I just… I just…” She wasn’t making sense, she knew it. “I just tried to imagine never having my mom soup again.” She looked up at Tikki, hoping her friend understood.

“Oh god! Tikki, it hurts so much!” She pressed her nails into her bare arms, hoping the pain would help. “Adrien lives with it every day!”

Tikki floated next to her face and touched her reassuringly.

“He’s in so much pain,” Marinette whispered, “but he never says anything.” Tikki settled on her shoulder and nuzzled her neck. 

“I wasn’t suppose to hear. I’m not supposed to know.” Marinette shook her head.

I can’t help anyone! And I’m done with them worrying about me.

“He doesn’t want his friends to know. He doesn’t want to be a burden.” She wiped away the tears from her eyes. Marinette hugged her knees and buried her face in her arms. “I don’t know how to help him,” she whispered.

Tikki patted her shoulder. “You saved his life tonight,” she reminded. “He was damp, sick, and freezing on the streets. You’ve already helped him so much.”

When Marinette didn’t respond, Tikki continued. “You’re not alone in this. Other people want to help Adrien too. Also,…” Tikki smiled at her, “you’re Ladybug! You can find crazy solutions to anything. I believe in you.”

Marinette looked up and smiled briefly at her friend. She dropped her gaze, staring at her hands again. “He’s so broken, Tikki. And he still tries so hard to help others.

“For years, I thought I knew him because I had his schedule memorized. I knew all of his five names, and his favorite macaroon flavor.  I knew what magazines he was in, and the location of all his photoshoots.  I knew his measurements, his hat size, his shoe size… I thought,.. thought I was in love with him.

“But I didn’t know him at all, Tikki, did I?” Marinette looked at her friend, sadly.

Tikki looked back to her, reassuringly. “You have a chance to know him now?  You can help him. You can let him know how much you care…”

“I love him!” Marinette blurted out. “Oh god! Tikki. It’s not like before, it isn’t… It’s something else. But I just want.. no, I need him to live! I want him to know how amazing he is! I want him to be loved. I don’t care if it’s in the arms of Kagami, or Chloé, or… or Wayham, or any other crazy fangirl. Please, Tikki,” her eyes pleaded with her friends. “I need him to survive his.”

Her memory once again flashed with images. Adrien’s too cold, too still body lying on her bed. Adrien’s determined face as he sprinted towards the river. His word’s echoed in her ears.

And I rather stay garbage than go back. ..

I’d rather die under the stars than live in a cage.

I’m glad I died.

She tried to shake the words from her mind.I can’t hide him forever, Tikki. Then what will I do?”

“Let’s get him healthy first, you’ll think of something."

Marinette wiped her eyes and her nose, she didn’t want to look as if she’d been crying.  She stood up and bounced up and down. Happy thoughts, happy thoughts. Don’t let Adrien see you sad.  

She made her way back to her bedroom. Once inside, she triumphantly held up the fresh croissants. “I was able to grab you two, still warm.” She smiled brightly. Yes! Girl, distract him with food.

Adrien was lying on the chaise. His pajama top was pushed up to reveal a slightly distended stomach.  His fingers were rubbing the exposed skin gently.  The empty tray of food lay on the floor.

“I think I’ve must have died.” He slowly turned to her and smirked. “I should have known heaven would be full of pastries and pretty girls.”

Marinette knew it was a joke. A meaningless tease to lighten the mood. She tried to keep her emotions in check. But her stupid eyes refused to listen and started watering.

“Marinette?”

Next, her traitorous throat seized up. It was hard to breathe, she could barely swallow. Adrien was sitting up now. His teasing expression fell to one of horrified shock.

Marinette quickly handed him the croissants before burying her face in her hands.

Now her chest gave the ultimate betrayal as a ragged sob shook her body. Damn, Damn! Marinette peaked through her fingers at Adrien.  He was staring back at her, his face full of terror and confusion. She needed to explain herself…

“Don’t say that! You could have died. I was so scared, you were so cold.” Oh god, was she shaking now? “And you wouldn’t wake up. I wanted to call an ambulance but Ladybug said…"

A warm hand tapped her shoulder. She knew it was meant to be assuring, but it was stiff and awkward.

“I’m so sorry, Marinette.” Adrien apologized, his voice high. “I shouldn’t have said that. Shit, this isn’t fair.  She shouldn’t have brought me here.  This is too big of an imposition.”

“You’re not an imposition!” Marinette’s angry red eyes flared back at him.  “She was right to bring you here! To a place you’d be safe. Where people care about you.”

Adrien was obviously stunned by the outburst.  And extremely confused. In less than a minute, Marinette had gone from happy, to weepy, and now furious.

Adrien’s arm fell from her shoulder as he dejectedly stared at his feet.

“Hey…” Marinette spoke softer now, desperately trying not to sound like a crazy person. “I’m glad you’re here. That you’re alive and safe. Just no more jokes, okay? Especially about dying?”

He nodded.

“I’m not very good with jokes anyway.” He shrugged apologetically. “You know that.”

Marinette couldn’t help but dryly laugh. She heard that line before. It was in the car after the most embarrassing afternoon of her life. Adrien had pretended to be a statue, and Marinette confessed her love.

“Yeah…” Marinette winced at the memory, “I remember. But, hey, at least I didn’t try to kiss you this time.”

Adrien’s face dropped into a bizarrely unreadable expression. Great job, Marinette, way to remind him of the most awkward moment ever!

“Come on.” Marinette stretched and changed the subject. “Let’s get some sleep.” She beckoned him toward her loft.

“I umm, I can sleep on the chaise.”

“And have my parents see?” Marinette yawned. “You’ve been sleeping outside, who knows where. Even with a bedmate, my loft in infinitely more comfortable.”

She could see his hesitation. Marinette closed her eyes and groaned to herself.  Stupid, stupid. She remembered the photos with Lila touching him, his eyes screaming.  He doesn’t know you that well, girl!  He doesn’t remember holding you for hours. Just because he had a fever, doesn’t mean you guys are on touching terms now.

“Look, if you’re at all uncomfortable, I can take the chaise. I sometimes sleep there when I’m sick.”

“No, I mean, you would be uncomfortable.”

"I’m not, but if you are, you can let me know, it’s okay.”

"But, I’m a guy?"

“That shouldn’t matter.”

Adrien opened his mouth the speak, then closed it again.

“When Alya stays over, she sleeps up there with me.  There’s more than enough room. I wiggle a bit, but I don’t snore.  Although, I do sometimes say weird things my sleep.”

Adrien just stared at her, his cheeks were pink. It was obvious he was still embarrassed by the conversation.

“I’m going to change sheets. You have a few minutes to decide.” Marinette walked over to her trunk and pulled out some fresh linens. “Really, Adrien. It’s okay if you would rather I sleep on the chaise. I’m so tired at this point I could sleep on the floor.”

Marinette left Adrien to consider his options. Then she quickly climbed up onto her loft bed.  She loved her bed, really she did, but she wished it wasn’t so hard to make. With practiced movements she crawled back and forth, striping the sheets and throwing them on the floor. When she finished putting the new sheets into place, she noticed Adrien’s head at the end of the bed. Watching her.

“I umm…” he scratched the back of his neck nervously, “I don’t want to kick you out of your bed.” Oh man, was he blushing? “It’s okay that we share.”

Marinette smiled as she crawled under the sheets. She held the covers up and motioned for Adrien to crawl in beside her.  He moved slowly and cautiously laid down beside her. Leaving a generous space between their shoulders. He took a deep breath.

“Okay,” Adrien asked, very determined. “What are the rules?”

“Rules?”

“I’ve never slept with anyone before. I don’t want to make a mistake.”

Dear god! He’s too pure! Marinette turned away and buried her face into her pillow. She didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or die of embarrassment. Luckily, she didn’t need to decide, her sleepy brain chose giggles. Marinette tried to muffle her laughter into her pillow, but she knew Adrien would be able to see her shaking back anyways.

“Oh, man… oh no!” Adrien stammered. “I didn’t mean.”

Marinette turned over to face him.  He looked so adorably lost.  The giggles still riddled her body as she tried to speak. She knew she shouldn’t tease. She really shouldn’t. It was so inappropriate.

“Well, we obviously need to choose a safe word.”

The look of absolute shock only lasted a few moments, then Adrien’s face twisted into an adorable little pout. Marinette clasped her hands over her mouth when the giggles became full-on belly laughs. It wasn’t long before long, Adrien broke into a wide smile. Then into a giggles himself.

Oh, man! It was wonderful to hear him laugh. Sure, it was probably the tired giddiness of not enough sleep. But it was music to Marinette’s ears. She felt happy tears at the corner of her eyes. As she watched Adrien smile and giggle back at her, she felt some of the tension release from her body.

“You know what I meant.” Adrien countered as soon as he was able to talk. “And I thought you said no more jokes.”

“That’s only for you.” Marinette playfully booped his nose. “My jokes are funny.”

She snuggled into the blankets and smiled at him. Adrien gave her a sleepy smile in return.  She missed that. Adrien’s smile. Marinette flipped over to her back and took a deep breath.

“Okay, etiquette for proper co-sleeping.”

“Hey, don’t tease…”

“No, I’m not. Well, not anymore.” She paused for a moment. “I’ve never had to think of rules before.  Hmm… don’t hog the blanket, stick to your own pillow, try to stay to your side of the bed. But, if an arm or leg comes over to the other side, that’s okay too.

“Alya can get pretty cuddly, so she usually pushes the ‘stay to your own side’ rule. I don’t mind though, she’s wonderfully squishy.”

Adrien propped himself up on his elbow and stared at her curiously. “You cuddle with Alya?”

Marinette turned to face him. “It’s more like she cuddles with me.” She mused with a big smile on her face. “I can’t be the big spoon without getting a face full of hair.  Alya’s sisters climb into bed with her when they have nightmares. So, she’s super used to it at this point. She’ll cuddle with anyone.”

Adrien laid back down with a sleepy grin on his face. “So friends can cuddle?”

“Yes, friends can cuddle.” Marinette smiled back. She watched Adrien yawn and rub his eyes. “We should really get some sleep. It will be light soon, and my bedroom starts to get really warm in the day. The disadvantage of living above a bunch of bakery ovens.”

Marinette turned to lay on her back. She wasn’t touching Adrien’s side but she could feel his body heat.  She stared at the night sky through her skylight, a fuzzy contentment in her chest.

“Goodnight, Marinette,” Adrien whispered softly. “…and thank you.”

“Goodnight, Adrien.”

It wasn’t long before Adrien’s breathing was slow and deep.  Marinette rolled over on her side to face him. He looked so different than the unconscious boy she brought back to her room last night.  His face was clean and smooth, and his lips barely had any cracks anymore. His hair was a bit of a mess, but at least it was clean.

When Marinette was positive Adrien was in deep sleep, she brought her hand to his chest. She bit her lip as she slowly lowered it down, careful not to wake him.  She lay her palm flat on his chest. Marinette could feel his heartbeat, slow and calm. She smiled to herself and exhaustion started to take hold.

She wasn’t sure how she was going to help him. But for right now, Adrien was safe and warm. And with someone who loved him.

…and for now, that was enough.



Chapter Text

Something warm and soft lay on Adrien’s chest. He smiled with his eyes closed. It wasn’t just on his chest, he could feel the weight of Marinette’s leg resting on his thighs too. And the warmth of her body as she lay pushed against his side.  Her forehead was lightly pressing into his shoulder, and her arm was draped over his body.

Adrien slowly brought his free hand up to touch the arm on his chest.  He didn’t want to wake her.  His fingers gently touched the soft skin of her forearm, caressing it tenderly. Adrien wished he could touch her more, but Marinette was pinning his other arm to his side.

He inhaled slowly and mindfully, trying to commit the smells to memory.  The smell of bread, the smell of clean sheets, the smell of Marinette’s shampoo.  Adrien still didn’t open his eyes.  But he began to mentally catalog all the sensations on his skin.  Marinette’s soft breath on his shoulder, the weight of her body, the warmth of her body. The softness of her hair laying against him.

Yes, he had to memorize every detail. Because it couldn’t last. Adrien knew he had to leave. And when he did, it would feel too soon.

Marinette stirred. Please don’t wake up yet! Adrien silently begged. He didn’t know what time it was, but he was guessing close to noon. Rays of sun beamed down from the skylight, making a sunny square on the bed. It also made the bed really warm.

No, hot, it was so hot! Marinette wasn’t kidding about the heat from the ovens. The blankets had long since been kicked to the bottom of the bed. Even then, Adrien still sweated in his pajamas. He dared not move, though, not even to take off his top.  If he moved, Marinette might wake up.  Adrien wasn’t really for that.

Because when she woke up, this would all end. 

He didn’t want to think about it, but he knew he had to go. He sighed. Plagg was right, he wasn’t managing well on his own.  Adrien’s strict adherence to not breaking any laws wasn't working.  Would anyone really be hurt if he stayed in an abandoned apartment? He could probably find someone to pay him under the table as a dishwasher or day laborer. Maybe he could find tourists who needed a guide around the city. He spoke multiple languages, and he spoke them well.

Hmmm… Adrien mused, working would make him more visible though. It was easy to hide amongst the homeless. No one ever looked at them. But his father might find him if he started being seen in high traffic areas. Especially in people’s travel photos.

Maybe he should dye his hair or shave his head? Marinette could probably do it for him. Without his distinguishing blond locks, he doubted anyone would recognize him. It worked when he was Aspik, didn’t it?

Cautiously, Adrien slid his fingers under Marinette’s hand. Her fingers curled around his on reflex. This was okay, right? Friends can cuddle. And they were friends.  Whatever heartbreak she suffered from his photoshoots with Lila, that was in the past. She wouldn’t be helping now if she was still upset, right?

Adrien listened to her breathing, deep and slow.  He liked this. He really liked this. Slowly, Adrien took in a deep breath.  He wished he could come back, but that might get Marinette in trouble. And he wouldn’t endanger Marinette and her family like that.

Hmmm…. maybe Chat Noir could come back and cuddle with his friend?

Adrien frowned. That’s not what the super suit is for! He could already imagine his kwami’s reaction.  Though, platonic cuddles were very different from what Marinette and him did that night. He felt himself grow even hotter with the memory. Tiny beads of sweat started to form on his brown. He really shouldn’t be thinking about that night, not right now. Nope.

Adrien finally opened his eyes and turned to look at the girl lying beside him. He couldn’t see much, mainly the top of her head and the bridge of her nose. She never tied her hair back after her shower last night. It was splayed over the pillow. Her lips were moving slightly. She must be talking in a dream, thought Adrien. It was really cute.

“Marinette!” Blue eyes flashed open as Sabine opened the hatch to her room. “Your friends are here!”

Adrien’s eyes locked with hers for a split second.

“Hide!” Marinette whispered as loud as she dared. With uncanny speed, she grabbed the covers from the end of the bed. Then threw them over Adrien’s body.

“Down in a moment!” Marinette called to her friends.

Adrien’s face was covered by the blanket, so he couldn’t see. But he felt Marinette crawl off the bed and down the ladder.  Adrien’s heart was pounding in his ears. This is bad! This is really really bad!

Adrien heard the chorus of hellos amongst the girls in his class. Well, not quite every girl. Chloé and Sabina were absent. But she was here.  Lila. Adrien clenched his jaw and balled his hands into fists. How dare she be here in Marinette’s room!

“Would your friends like anything from the bakery?” Sabine asked brightly, “I think you’re father just finished up some eclairs.”

The happy squeals hurt Adrien’s ears.

“Come, Marinette, I’ll box you up some treats for you girls.”

“I should probably stay…” Marinette started to protest.

“You look like you’re feeling better,” Sabine playfully scolded, “And I need to get back to your father.”

Adrien heard the stairs creak as they left.

This is so much worse! What if they decided to go up to the balcony? The air was muggy and hot under the blanket. Every pore of Adrien’s body was sweating. What if they tried to stay the entire lunch break?

“Well, she looks like she feels okay, now,” Alex said.

“Maybe it was a sickness that was only in the morning?” Lila mused sweetly.

Adrien heard Rose gasp. “You don’t think she could be…?”

“Absolutely not, Marinette’s not like that. I know my friend would never get herself pregnant.”

Dear god! Does this girl ever stop?

“Then why bring it up?”

Way to go, Alya! Start seeing Lila for what she is!

“I didn’t, silly. Rose did.” Lila explained. “There are lots of illnesses that only affect people in the morning. Maybe not so much here in France, but I have traveled so much. It’s hard for me to keep track.”

The girls seemed to buy Lila’s obvious deflection.

“But Marinette has been really secretive with her love life lately.” Mylene sounded worried. “It’s not really like her.”

“Did we ever find out about her mystery man?” Alex asked bluntly.

“Hey, guys?” Alya was using a warning tone. “Marinette will tell when she’s ready. Okay. Gossiping about it now isn’t going to help her”

Yes, yes! Adrien wanted to pound his fist in the air, you tell her Alya!

“I’m just sooo worried.” Lila continued, ignoring Alya. “I guess she went off the deep end after Adrien rejected her. Oh! I’m so sorry. I promised him I wouldn’t tell.”

“What now?”

“Oh, no…”

“Poor Marinette!”

“Oh, wow” exclaimed Alya, surprised, “I didn’t know.”

Liquid rage pulsed through Adrien’s veins. He was having to listen to Lila hurt Marinette again! All the moments he wished he could have gone back in time to prevent Lila’s plotting. And now, he was stuck having let it happen all over again! No, he wouldn’t let it happen. Not when he was right here!

Suddenly, Plagg was at his cheek, whispering in his ear. “Adrien, I know what your thinking, but think about what Marinette would want? She went to great trouble to hide you.”

“I don’t care! She’s lying about me, about Marinette.” Adrien said through clenched teeth.

“Having Adrien jump out of her bed will only make more rumors, plus your father will know where you are. That will make things much worse for Marinette.”

“We could transform? Cataclysm the lies out of her!”

“That’s not how it works!”

“Where is Adrien anyway?” Alex asked. Once again, Adrien started paying attention to the conversation below him.

“Gabriel hasn’t said.” Since when was Lila on first name terms with his father? Ha, who knows if that’s even true. “But, I haven’t seen him recently. His assistant says he’s working hard on his new line. I still have photoshoots scheduled. l can give Adrien messages for you guys if I see him?”

What? Do his friends not even know he ran away? Was his father even looking for him? He was always so protective before. Did that totally vanish once Adrien dared to defy him? Adrien wanted to throw up. It was one thing to keep his disappearance out of the press, but to hid it from his friends too? He poked his face out from beneath the blanket, hoping the fresh air would settle his stomach.

Did his father only love him as long as he was useful? It wasn’t the first time the thought crossed Adrien’s mind, but hearing it confirmed was like a knife in the belly.

Ladybug did say his friends were looking for him. She probably meant Nino. Adrien could totally see his buddy flagging down a superhero for help.  Nino was such a good friend. But… but… it still sickened him. Adrien tried so hard to stay hidden, and his father wasn’t even looking.

“I’m baaaaaack!” Marinette called, out of breath. Adrien knew she ran up all the flights of stairs.

The girls gave delighted squeals at her arrival. The talking ceased while they ate the eclairs. Then, the girls talked about assignments and projects coming up. Adrien couldn’t help feel sorry that he would never get to join them at school again. His heartbeat had slowed down to a normal level, but the sweat continued to pour out of his skin.

Please let them leave! Soon!

“Actually guys,” Marinette suddenly interrupted the chatter. “I’m starting to not feel so well. It might be better if you go.”

“Awh…” There were a bunch of disappointed sighs.

“Marinette, you should totally try ginger tablets?” Lila offered sweetly. “They worked so well for my cousin in her early months.”

“I, um… thank you?” Adrien could hear the confusion in her voice, but she responded politely just the same. “Come on, I’ll walk you guys out.”

Adrien listened to their footsteps as they left. As soon as he heard the door shut, he threw the covers off his body.  His pajamas were drenched with sweat.  He couldn’t peel them off fast enough.

Wearing nothing but his disco-ball boxers, he made his way down from Marinette’s bed. Adrien walked over to the sink and splashed cold water on his face and neck.  Plagg was by his side the whole time.

“She did it again Plagg!”

“Keep it down Adrien.” his kwami warned. “You were right to stay hidden.”

“I feel so useless!” Adrien started pacing back and forth in the room. Trying to burn off excess adrenaline.

“Marinette can take care of herself, she’s stronger than you think. Besides, it’s only words. In a few weeks, people will forget what Lila said.”

When pacing wasn’t enough, Adrien dropped to the floor and started doing pushups. Every time he lifted himself up, he imagined punching Lila’s smug little face.  Adrien began to pant with the exertion, but it still felt really good. New beads of sweat started to trickle down his chest and arms. Hmm… he should really get the deodorant out of his bag, toothbrush too.

He jumped to his feet when he heard Marinette make her way back up the stairs.

“Sorry about that…” she began to apologize. Marinette’s face turned bright red when she saw him.

Oh... Crap!

“I, um…” she was staring at his naked chest. Almost on cue, Adrien felt a bead of sweat run between his pectorals and down his abdomen.  Marinette blinked, following the trickle with her eyes. “umm…what was I saying?”

“Sorry,” Adrien attempted to wipe off the sweat with his palms. “I got really sweaty.”

“Yes, of course, you’re really hot!” She paused to winced at the words, clamping her eyes shut.

“I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable, but the pajamas got too wet to wear.”

“Yeah,.. umm wet.” Marinette bit her lip and turned away.

“One of the downsides to being a model, I forget most people are not used to... to,” Adrien gestured to his chest.

“It’s okay, I’m fine, you’re fine,... Ha! Obviously, I mean, as long as your comfortable. I’m comfortable.”

Marinette walked over to her sink whispering “I’m fine,” over and over. She grabbed Adrien a towel and handed it to him.  “Alya’s coming by after school with today’s homework.  Maybe we can find you a better hiding place.”

He took the towel from her and started to wipe off his chest.

Marinette jumped when her phone suddenly rang in her pocket. Adrien was grateful for the distraction.

“Penny! You got my text.” She winked at Adrien. “Thank you for calling me back so fast. Yes, it is an emergency.

“What? Now?” Marinette’s eyebrow cocked in confusion.  “Um sure,… okay, let me put him on speakerphone.” She beckoned Adrien closer.

“Now, keep in mind,” Jagged's distinctive voice was coming through the tiny speaker. “It’s still a bit raw, but it’s for my acoustic album. It’s got the soul of rock’n’roll, but the heart of romance.” 

A piano melody started playing through the phone.  Adrien couldn’t help be feel giddy at the private concert, the earlier awkwardness already forgotten. He closed his eyes as his fingers tapped against his thighs. Jagged’s piano melody blended together elements of two of his well-loved songs, but in a delightfully new and strangely complex way.  Did Jagged let Marinette preview his songs often? So cool!

The song ended too soon for Adrien’s liking.

“So, Marinette?” Jagged asked enthusiastically, “what do you think?”

Adrien cupped his hand against Marinette’s ear and whispered.  He pulled away and smiled at her.

“Umm… Jagged?” Marinette began unsure of herself. “Could I hear refrain again? With a…?”

“F minor sixth” Adrien mouthed slowly.

“F minor sixth in the third measure.” Marinette shrugged, her bewildered eyes locked with Adrien’s.

“Oh yeah,… of course.” The melody started playing again.  The changed chord created a beautiful tension, that then resolved into a shiver-inducing consonant.

Jagged stopped before he got through with the line.

“Marinette! You are a freaking genius!” He exclaimed excitedly.

Marinette giggled at Adrien. “It wasn’t me. It was my friend.” Her beautiful eyes still locked with Adrien’s.

“Well, tell your friend, she’s a genius!”

“You’re a genius,” Marinette whispered, smiling brightly.

"I’m thinking it will be track three on the new album.” Jagged continued.  “All the best songs are on track three. I wanted you to be first to hear it, so you could start creating ideas in that amazing mind of yours. You know, for the cover.”

Marinette finally broke Adrien's gaze and slyly looked away.

“Thank you Jagged. It’s really beautiful, but I need to talk to Penny again.” Marinette bid Jagged a polite goodbye, then turned off the speakerphone. She put her phone to her ear once again.

“Hi Penny, yes, about why I contacted you.” Marinette folded one arm under her chest, obviously nervous “I need to find an attorney. I have a friend. She’s a… a signer, and she really needs out of her living situation. She has worked for years, I’m sure she has her own money, but because she’s a minor, she can’t access it. Do you know of any attorneys that have ever helped with… um, what’s it called...?” Her eyes locked with Adrien’s again, “emancipation?”

A bubbly-excitement filled Adrien’s chest. Brilliant! It took everything he had not to start jumping up and down on the stop.

“Yes.  He’s,… she’s 16.”

Adrien wished she still was on speakerphone.

“Mmhmm. Yes.” Marinette was nodding. That’s a good sign, right? “Yes, as soon as possible.

“Thank you so much, Penny!”

Marinette hung up the phone. “She’s going to make some calls.”

Every fiber in Adrien’s body wanted to hug her, but he doubted she’d like a sweaty, half-naked boy pressed against her. So he resisted. He gave her his brightest smile instead, “you’re amazing, Marinette!”

“Thank Penny, she’s doing all the work.” Marinette shrugged shyly. “How are you feeling?”

“Much better.” Physically, he felt fine. He still had a tiny tickle in his lungs, but that was the only trace of sickness left.  But the earlier conversation he overheard made him feel uneasy.  Adrien’s face dropped with the memory.  Marinette looked at him again with concern in her eyes.

“You sure?”

“Lila was at it again.” Adrien blurted out. “Earlier. Saying things about you.”

Marinette scoffed but otherwise seemed indifferent.

“Lila also said that father was still working hard on the spring line. I don’t understand, Marinette. Does nobody know I left?”

Marinette hesitated, chewing on her lip. She finally took a deep breath.  “No one knew you ran away.  Lila said some things, so who knew if they were true. One day you were on the class list, the next day you weren’t. Your father never contacted any of your friends, but I’m pretty sure he’s watching the school.”

So his father was looking for him, just not very hard.  Adrien frowned. Just as long as it doesn’t hurt the brand, right?

Marinette must have sensed his hurt. She reached out and squeezed his hand.  “Your friends all miss you very much.”

Adrien took a deep breath, he didn’t want Marinette to see him cry. “I just don’t understand why father didn’t say anything.” He squeezed her hand back, wishing his own wasn’t so sweaty.

“I wish I knew, Adrien.” She sighed, “but I know if he wasn’t so rich and powerful, there’s be no way he could treat you the way he does.”

Adrien squirmed. He felt he should say something.  It was always awkward when people criticized his father. For years he had defended his father’s actions.  He’s strict, or overprotective, or he’s been through a lot. But now…? Adrien just didn’t have the energy anymore.

“Um,..” Marinette let go of his hand, once again looking at his chest. “If you open the hatch, my room should cool down pretty quickly.”

Adrien climbed back into the loft and cracked the skylight.  The cool fresh air felt amazing on his skin.  He laid back down on the bed, trying to gather his thoughts.

Hmm… emancipation? Could he really pull that off?  He never thought about that before. But it was a good idea.  Marinette was clever like that.  Adrien was pretty sure he had his own money somewhere.  But Nathalie always took care of those things.  Adrien really should have paid better attention.

He sighed. Though, Adrien had no reason to pay attention.  Up until the night he left, it never occurred to him to run away.  He wasn’t much of a planner, he never needed to be.  His previous life was meticulously structured by his father.  Even if he had tried to make plans, there was no way he’d be allowed to follow through.

Adrien lay on the bed lost in his own thoughts.  Marinette brought his laundered clothes to the balcony to dry.  The afternoon was sunny, but it still wasn’t very warm.  She wasn’t sure if they’d be dry by dark.  Marinette offered to find him something else to wear, but he didn’t want to trouble her.  Ayla would stop by after school, and once again Adrien would need to hide under the blanket.  That would be sweaty enough without additional clothing.

He didn’t really see the need to hide from Alya.  Adrien trusted her. But Marinette insisted that the best-kept secrets were the ones you didn’t share.  It was really a shame Ladybug wouldn’t use Multimouse again, Adrien mused. Marinette had all the features of a great miraculous wielder.

Adrien stayed up in the loft bed all afternoon. He only came down to use the bathroom, and to have some soup.  Marinette worked on her studies, while Adrien tried to catch up on anime using her phone. But before long, he ended up falling asleep.

Adrien awoke to Marinette shaking his foot.

“Alya’s on her way over.  She’s bringing Nino too.”  Marinette paused for a moment, “will you be okay?”

Adrien smiled.  Even if he had to hide, he was excited to be close to his buddy again.  “Don’t worry.  I’ll stay hidden.”  He assured her.

They didn't have to wait for long.  Within minutes Marinette spotted them from her window.  “They’re on their way!”

Adrien covered himself with the blanket, happy with the thought of being in the same room as his friend. It wasn’t long before he heard them at the front door.

“Hi Alya, hi… oh my god!” Marinette exclaimed. “Nino, What’s wrong?”

They were talking down in the apartment. With Marinette’s door open, Adrien could hear their conversation.

“It’s alright,” Alya said assuringly, “You can tell her.”

“They um…” Nino was struggling with the words. “The police rejected my missing person report.”

Adrien frowned. Nino tried to file a missing person report? For me?

“Can they do that?” Marinette asked, sounding shocked.

“If Adrien’s not enrolled in school, he’s not considered truant,” Alya explained.  “But it gets worse.”

They stopped talking for a moment, Adrien really wished he could see.

“According to Officer Raincomprix,” Nino spoke again. “There was never a missing person report on Emilie Agreste.”

What!? Icy shock washed over Adrien. That can’t be right?

“But she’s been missing for over three years. Are you telling me it was never investigated?”

“Apparently,…” It was Alya talking now, “Mr. Agreste told the police he would use private investigators.  Save the taxpayers money.  And his guys would do a better job anyway.”

Well, that part sounded like father.

“But the police never followed up!” Nino sounded angry now.  “They just let it go! They let her disappear. And now…” His voice was high and desperate.  “…they are going to let Adrien disappear too? Just like his mom. Fuck! What if he killed them? What if he...”

“Nino, no!” Marinette interrupted, “Mr. Agreste is many things, but you can’t think he could be a murderer?”

“It’s not a stretch.” Nino sniffed, “he’s a sociopath. But let’s all just turn a fucking blind eye because he makes pretty clothes!”

Nino’s sniffles were muted now. Adrien guessed Alya was holding him. He hated this. He hated seeing his friend hurting. When Nino spoke again, it was high and strained.

“Emilie’s corpse could be rotting in his basement. Adrien could be there too, and we’d… we'd never know. I’m sorry, I’m just so scared I’ve never see my friend again.”

Adrien held his breath, not trusting himself to breathe. If he drew a breath, he might sob. Then they would hear him for sure.

“Hey, Nino,” Marinette spoke gently. “Maybe he’s somewhere nice. With people who care about him.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well... maybe Aubrey flew him to New York? He could be partying on top of skyscrapers? Or maybe Kagami smuggled him to Japan, and he’s living out the ultimately weeb fantasy.  Surrounded by video games, manga, and anime.”

Adrien heard Nino half chuckle with the thought.

“Or he could be in a big fluffy bed with a belly full of carbs.”

“Thank you, Marinette,” He said softly.

“Here, girl.” Alya spoke again, “I got your notes and assignments from today. Did you think you’ll be back at school tomorrow?”

Marinette hesitated, “I’ll see how I feel in the morning.”

“Oh,... okay” Alya replied.

Adrien winced. He didn’t like Marinette missing school because of him.

“Hey girl? Just remember, you can talk with me about anything, okay?” Ayla assured gently. “I won’t judge, I only want to help.”

“Umm… okay, thank you?”

They said their goodbyes and Adrien heard them leave.  He knew Nino would miss him when he left.  But he never thought he’d take it so hard.  Adrien frowned and buried his face in his hands.  He really needed a way to tell Nino that he was okay.

And what was the deal with his father stopping the missing person reports?  Were private investigators looking for his mother, and Adrien never knew?  It still made him feel uneasy.  Was that even legal?  Maybe he could ask and attorney if they ever found one.

A short while later, Penny called back.  Marinette was still down in the apartment, so Adrien couldn’t hear much of the conversation.  But, it didn’t sound like there was any piano solos this time.

When the call was over, Marinette raced back upstairs with a big smile on her face.

"Penny found an attorney! She’s agreed to see us. She doesn’t have any openings on her schedule. But she deals with a lot of temperamental artists who regularly cancel. So we can go to her office, and wait in the lobby.” Marinette bounced excitedly.

“Adrien, we can see her tomorrow morning!”

 

——

After talking with Penny, Marinette dove back into her studies.  Ladybug’s surveillance had taken away from her schoolwork and she really needed to catch up.  Though, she missed Tikki’s help. And it was distracting having a mostly naked model in her room.

Marinette could probably ask Adrien for help.  But she really needed to wait until his clothes were on.  To her, the room wasn’t overly warm, but compared to living outside, it probably felt downright balmy. She was glad Adrien was comfortable with his body, I mean, who wouldn’t be? But it made it very hard for her to concentrate.

They were friends, right? Friends shouldn’t be having sexy thoughts about each other.  Marinette cringed. Years of fantasies came pouring back into her brain. It wasn’t fair. She was better than this now.  But, it still felt like a dirty secret.  Should she be honest?  Should she let him know about her old crush? Maybe he would cover up more?

No. She thought. I wouldn’t want to burden his with that nonsense. It’s in the past. I’m here to help my friend, nothing more.

Marinette worked until her eyes were dry and blurry. Adrien had climbed into the loft bed hours ago. She was sure he was already asleep, but she couldn’t help stalling the inevitable.

Unlike the previous night, Adrien wasn’t suffering from hypothermia. And even though Marinette was tired, it was still a far cry from the exhaustion of last night. 

Plus, she winced, friends can cuddle.

Not that she didn’t want to cuddle with Adrien. Oh god, she did! But she shouldn’t. Wait. What if he wanted to cuddle? Last night, she told him it was okay, but she didn’t want him to feel bad about sharing her bed.  And what she said about Alya was true. Friends can cuddle. It shouldn’t be weird sharing a bed now.

Maybe she should sleep on the chaise? But she didn’t want Adrien to think he made her uncomfortable. It wasn’t his fault she used to have a crush on him. Used to. Used to. Marinette repeated to herself.

She looked up and groaned. She had no idea what to call the emotion she felt now. Marinette loved him, but she desperately wanted to protect him. She wanted to see him happy, and away from that terrible excuse for a father. She wanted him back at school with his friends. She wanted him to smile and laugh.

Marinette didn’t want him for herself anymore. So why were there these frustrating thoughts? Why was there a lusty desire she felt deep in her belly? Why did her heart beat so fast when she looked up to her loft? Why did she blush at the thought of lying beside him again?

One night. Just one more night, girl, you can do it!

After Adrien gets an attorney, who knows where he’ll be. Gabriel must be breaking a dozen laws with the way he treats him. There’s no way Adrien will have to go back.  Maybe he’ll go stay with Chloe or Kagami? He’ll have his own bed, his own room.  After tonight, Adrien wouldn’t need her to hide him.

But, right now, Adrien was in her bed. Most likely just wearing his boxers.  And it was twisting Marinette’s insides in knots.

Sometime after midnight, Marinette finally headed up to her loft.  Sure enough, Adrien’s eyes were closed.  Marinette smiled and felt herself relax.  Hours of worrying over nothing.  She crawled over and gazed at him.  Adrien was laying on his side, with his arm slung over her pillow.  His handsome face was peaceful in the moonlight.

Marinette lay beside him and propped herself up on her elbow. She gently touched his shoulder. “Adrien,” she whispered, “can you move your arm?”

Slowly and deliberately Adrien lifted the arm that was at his side. He gently draped it over Marinette’s waist, keeping the other on her pillow. His eyes were open, watching her, the corner of his mouth upturned in a smirk.  Marinette started to doubt he was asleep to begin with.

“I was thinking the other one.” Marinette hoped he couldn’t see her flush. “I thought you were asleep.”

“I thought friends could cuddle.” His expression was teasing, but there was something else too. Hope? Marinette gulped. Stay cool, girl!

“Of course they can!” She said louder than she probably should. Marinette twisted around until she faced away. She laid down on her pillow, with Adrien’s arm against her neck. His other arm still draped over her waist. “Goodnight.”

Oh man, this was awkward!

Other than his arms, Adrien wasn’t touching her. There were at least two hand widths between them. Marinette lay silently, not daring to move. Think of Alya. She’s hot too! Just pretend he’s Alya!

Marinette winced. But it was different. Alya was a friend, and Marinette knew she wasn’t treating Adrien as a friend at the moment. She wasn’t treating him like Alya. She was letting her old fantasies get the better of her. It didn’t have to be weird, but her old crush was making so.

Marinette bit her lip. She was determined to prove that her old infatuation had no power over her. She grabbed the arm that was at her waist and wrapped it around her body.  At the same time, she scooted herself back until she was flush with his chest.  If it was Alya, it wouldn’t be weird, right?

She heard Adrien voicelessly chuckle as he molded his body to hers. Oh god, she could feel his breath on the back of her neck.  She hoped he couldn’t feel her heartbeat.  Though, at this point, he might be able to hear it.

Adrien’s arms softly pulled Marinette against him. She couldn’t help but gasp at the sensation.  It felt so good! He was so warm, and he smelled so so…!  Marinette winced. She shouldn’t be thinking about these things.  She was over her crush, she was determined to prove that… that…

Adrien sighed against her neck and shivers cascaded down her body. Her belly twisted in knots.  No, it wasn’t really her belly. It was somewhere much lower, but she wasn’t going to admit that.  Marinette squeezed her knees together and bit her lip.  Calm down, girl!

Hormones started to overtake the rational part of Marinette’s brain. Why was she fighting this exactly? Adrien was holding her because he wanted to, and it felt wonderful. Tomorrow, he would be gone. Was it so wrong to enjoy this now?

Marinette found herself relaxing in his arms. She couldn’t help but smile.  As tired as she was, she didn’t want to fall asleep yet. She let go of his wrist and snuggled under his arms. She’d never been held by a boy before, not like this. Chat Noir had held her in his arms on her balcony, but she couldn’t feel his skin. She couldn’t feel his heat.

Don’t be thinking about that night! Please!

Marinette's brain ignored her request. Were Adrien’s lips as soft as Chat’s? Would he moan if she ran her fingers through his hair? Would he hold her waist if she sat on his lap?

A whine escaped Marinette’s throat.

Adrien stiffened and pulled his arm away. “I’m sorry. I thought this was okay.”

“It is, you’re fine!” Marinette lied. “I’m just a little nervous about tomorrow. I’ve never talked with an attorney before, and I really hope it goes okay.” Man, I’m such a liar.

“Oh, right…”  Marinette felt Adrien relax again. He repositioned his arm and squeezed her hand. “I’m worried too. I’ve been thinking, and… um, what if someone recognizes me in the lobby?”

“Don’t worry about that.  I’m sure no one will. Not after I’m done with you.” Marinette giggled to herself. “So Adrien, how do you feel about a secret identity?”



Chapter Text

Adrien never claimed to have a normal life. He spent his evenings leaping across the roofs of Paris for god's sake. In a leather catsuit with fake ears and a belt for a tail!  He should be used to ridiculous by now.

“Your skirt’s riding up.” Marinette whispered, “Try to sit with your knees closer together.”

Adrien was man-spreading. He couldn’t help it. The pretty floral skirt and leggings he wore created a literal sauna for his balls.

Sweat dripped from under the shoulder-length blond wig he wore.  Topped with a wool beret. Bright cherry red beret, to match his glistening bright red lips.

As plans go, it was ridiculous. Ridiculous and brilliant. Marinette was clever. Her creativity and resourcefulness might even match his lady.  Adrien grimaced and wiggled in his seat. But neither would ever have to deal with the ball soup he was enduring right now.

The receptionist, Eva something, got up to take some papers somewhere. He didn’t care, as long as she stayed gone a while. Adrien spread his legs and wafted his skirt to try to cool down.

Marinette gave him an apologetic smile. “Don’t get too cozy.  She’ll be back soon."

They had been waiting for hours, Adrien leaned his head back against the wall. “What if she can’t see us today? I don’t know if I can do this again tomorrow.”

“You could shave your legs.” Marinette teased. “Then you wouldn’t need leggings.”

“Give me a razor? I’ll shave them now.”

“There are some candles over here.” Marinette glanced over to some decorative candles, “they say waxing last longer.”

“Oh haha,” he said dryly. “Cute outfit aside, if I sweat much more, you won’t be able to hide the man funk.”

“Man funk?” Marinette smiled. “Don’t you mean: Adrien. The Fragrance ?” She imitated the advertisement.

Adrien glared at her, but she just giggled back

“It’s just a little musky.” Marinette leaned over and sniffed him playfully. “Maybe with a hint of sandalwood and spice.”

She rested her head on his shoulder, inhaling deeply. “You smell fine.”  She squeezed his hand.

Adrien’s hand was sweaty, but if she noticed, she didn’t show it.

The receptionist came back, and Adrien crossed his ankles demurely. After she took her seat, she winked over at her cute clients.

Adrien blushed and looked down at Marinette’s hand. She had been holding his hand all day.

When they first stepped out to the streets of Paris, Adrien thought he was doomed. He spent so long trying to avoid being noticed. And now, they drew attention from everyone they walked past.

Marinette had done her job too well.  Adrien was stunning.

His makeup had been done exquisitely.  His naturally high cheekbones and large eyes were contoured and highlighted beautifully.  For his outfit, Marinette chose a dark denim bolero jacket to minimize his shoulders and showcase his tiny waist.  Adrien wore a tiered ruffled skirt that fell mid-thigh. The ruffles gave the illusion of hips.

As he walked down the streets of Paris, he felt eyes gaze up and down his body. Adrien should have been used to it, people looked at him all the time. But today, it made him uneasy.

When they passed by a coffee shop, an older man tried to invite Adrien to coffee. Sensing his discomfort, Marinette possessively slipped her arm around his waist.

“She’s taken.” Marinette winked and smiled.

Adrien wrapped his arm around her shoulders. Then, he leaned over and kissed her cheek, delightfully playing along. His bright red lipstick left a mark, but he didn’t say anything.

Marinette’s arm was around his waist the rest of the way to the law office.  People smiled and whistled when they walked by. Adrien knew they thought Marinette and him were a couple.  It was really fun, pretending with her.

Adrien might have played it up a little more than necessary. He didn’t have to caress her shoulder or play with her pigtail as they walked.  But Adrien was learning how much he enjoyed touching his friend. And the more he touched Marinette, the more comfortable she seemed with him.

She let him hold her all night long. Of all the things Adrien learned since he stopped being homeschooled, ‘friends can cuddle’ was the best. He smiled at the memory.

He had spent the previous afternoon napping, so he wasn’t really tired when it was time to sleep. Adrien had patiently waited for Marinette to join him in the loft. He had hoped for more cuddles, but he would have been happy lying beside her.

Adrien just about exploded when she backed herself into him. He wondered if Marinette had ever cuddled with a guy before. Because, when she pressed her tight little bottom in his lap, it made it very hard… to keep his thoughts strictly platonic.

There was something different about Marinette.  She seemed more relaxed and more comfortable with him. She joked with him, she teased. She seemed much more confident with herself. Adrien really liked this new Marinette. -Not that he disliked the old Marinette, seeing her flustered was adorable.

“Ms. Bisset will see you now,” Eva announced. Finally.

“Oh thank god,” Adrien said under his breath as he stood up.

“Let me do the talking,” Marinette reminded him. “Just answer yes or no questions. Speak as softly as you can.”

They followed the receptionist through a doorway into Ms. Bisset’s office. At some point, her office might have been considered luxurious, or stylish. But every flat surface was covered with folders and loose papers.

“Please sit.”  A middle-aged woman walked out in front of the desk and leaned against it.  She grabbed a legal pad and flipped through it until she found an empty page.

“I don’t have long, so we’ll jump right in.  As I understand it, you are a singer Miss...?

“Adrien.” He reached up and took off his wig and beret. “My name is Adrien Agreste.”

Ms. Bisset blinked, “Oh!”

Marinette glared at him. “Adrien, we had a plan!”

“I know, I know and it was a good one too. I’m sorry, can I…?” Adrien stood up, kicked off his ballet flats, and peeled off leggings. He sat back down and spread his knees wide.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Marinette hide her face in her hands.

“So Mr. Agreste… Adrien,” Bisset continued “I understand you want to be emancipated.  How old are you?”

“Sixteen.”

“Are you employed?"

“No, but I have money.”

“I’m not here to help a trust fund child have early access to play money.”

Marinette whined through her fingers. “We had a plan.”

“I’ve worked for it! Well, some of it was my mother’s, but I know the money from my modeling gigs has been put away."

“Do you know how much?”

“No.”

Bisset scribbled something on her notepad. “You say you have worked in the past, but you are not currently employed?”

“No, but I can get a job. I’m a highly sought after model in the industry.”

“I see. You say 'in the industry,' but have you ever modeled for someone other than your father?"

Her words stung.

“No.” Adrien slunk back into his chair. “But, I’ve done voice work. I was the main voice talent in the Ladybug movie.”

“Do you have any other voice engagements?”

“Not currently, but I know the director…" God, he sounded pathetic.

“Do you have an agent?”

“My father’s assistant takes care of that.”

Ms. Bisset pursed her lips together and jotted something down again.

“Listen. I’ll work. I’ll pick up trash, I’ll teach piano, I’ll wait tables. Please. I just need a chance.”

Bisset scribbled again.

“I know what it sounds like!” Marinette’s face came out of hiding, “but he’s not just a trust fund baby wanting to go in a spending spree. Up until three nights ago, he was sleeping on the streets.”

Bisset stopped writing and looked up.

“Adrien left home ten days ago, and his father never notified the police, or bothered contacting his friends.

"He forces Adrien to work, probably more than child labor codes allow. He forces him on a restrictive diet that probably violates Geneva conventions.  Nothing less than absolute obedience is tolerated if Adrien steps out of line his father threatens to pull him from school.”

Bisset’s gaze softened.

“As an attorney, there is only so much I can do. If it’s a matter of abuse, that’s a matter to be brought to a prosecutor or for child protective services.

Adrien squirmed in his seat. He hated that word. Abuse. It’s not like his father ever hit him.

“And as far as emancipation goes.  Adrien is not a good candidate. He is not in a position to support himself.”

“If he finds a job…?” Marinette protested.

“That’s not the only issue here.”

Bisset turned to Adrien. “Have you ever managed any money before, created a budget, paid bills?”

Adrien shook his head.

“I can help him with that!” Marinette raised her hand excitedly. “I’ve been doing my family’s books for two years. I signed them up with an accounting software that does budgeting, purchasing, inventory, taxes…"

“And that would be quite helpful if you were the one seeking emancipation,” Bisset replied sharply, Marinette crossed her arms and glared at her.

“Adrien, you say you have assets but have you ever seen the accounts themselves?”

He shook his head again.

"Can you care for yourself? Cook, buy groceries, do laundry, clean…?”

“I can teach him!"

“Miss Cheng, again. This isn’t about you.”

God. I was so stupid to get my hopes up. Adrien thought bitterly. She’s calling me a child. It’s a good thing that I wore a pretty skirt.

“I can get you in touch with child protective services, they can provide you with counseling, perhaps mediation.  But you need to manage your expectations. Children are removed from custodial parents as a last resort.”

“That’s not good enough!”  Marinette was standing now, fists clench, face red. “He abuses Adrien!”

Adrien winced. That word again.

“Do you have any proof? Photos of bruises? Doctor’s or hospital notes?

“It’s not like that! He has to do stupid dehydration protocols where he doesn’t get water the days before photoshoots.”

“Adrien, do you have a copy of this protocol given to you?"

“It shouldn’t matter!"

“You’re right, it shouldn’t, but legally, it does, it’s evidence I can take to a judge and get an order to have Adrien removed from his father’s guardianship.”

“He… he…” were there tears in her eyes now? “He’s made to do photoshoots that make him extremely uncomfortable. He doesn’t get a say in who touches him or not.”

“I agree, it’s terrible. Adrien, have you spoken with anyone about this? Any teachers, friends? Is there any able to corroborate that this has been an ongoing-?”

“What? So if he didn’t say anything, it never happened?

“Miss. Dupain-Cheng, I am on your side! But I need to know what I have to work with.  I don’t ask these questions to be mean. This… this isn’t even my area of law!” She gestured to the piles of papers strewn all around. “I work in contracts, making sure artists get paid fairly.

“Adrien, are there any texts with your father or his assistant, where you expressed how uncomfortable the modeling is for you? Or any discussing the water restriction at all.  Or the threats to remove you from school?”

He stared down at his feet, not bothering to shake his head.

“Emancipation is exceptionally rare.” Ms. Bisset explained gently. “It’s usually reserved for wards of the state who are already acting as adults. They are employed persons who have shown that they can care for themselves. I know it took a lot to come find me today. And I will help you any way I can. I know some people at child protection services that will do everything in their power to advocate for you.”

“Please,” Marinette begged, “he can’t go back. I might never see him again. He’ll be locked in his house forever. His father has already withdrawn him from school, rather than admit he ran away. When his mother disappeared, there was never any formal investigation. If Gabriel wasn’t so rich, there is no way that would have happened.”

Tears were running down her face now. No, Marinette shouldn’t be crying over him.

“When my friend tried to file a missing persons report, he was turned away. Can child services really take on Gabriel Agreste?”

A heavy silence hung in the air.

“Please,” Marinette whispered, her voice desperate. “There has to be something you can do.”

Bisset sighed. ”Miss Dupain-Cheng, how old are you?” she asked gently.

“Sixteen”

“What do your parents think of Adrien?”

“Um,.. they like him?” Marinette was obviously confused by the change of topic. “They worry about him. I’m sure they’d help him if they could.”

"And you? It seems you care for him very much. Would you help him any way you could?”

“Yes, gladly.” Marinette wiped her face with the back of her hand.

Bisset put down her legal pad. “Emancipation is granted under three circumstances. The first, if a minor can prove they’re already acting as an adult. Second, is when one has a child.  I’m assuming Adrien hasn’t fathered any children.”

Adrien scoffed.

“The third way, is marriage with parental consent or consent of a public authority figure.”  Ms. Bisset took a deep breath and exhaled. “And if Gabriel Agreste is everything you say he is, that might be our best option here.”

Huh?

“What?” Marinette asked, confused. “You… you want Adrien to get married?!”

“No,” Ms. Bisset corrected, “ You want Adrien to get married. To you.”

——

 

She felt like she’d been doused with ice water?

“Married?! Us? But we’re not..”

“Old enough?” Bisset cut her off. "Yes, Miss Dupain-Cheng. Under normal circumstances. So you’ll need to talk it over with your parents. They will both need to consent. It will be difficult enough to get a judge to allow Adrien to marry. So it is crucial your parents are on board.”

“Ms. Bisset,” Adrien spoke for the first time in a while. “I think what Marinette was trying to say was that she and I are not…”

“Shhttt, ttt, ttt, my time is valuable, and I think you should let me speak.” Ms. Bisset’s voice was commanding. “As an attorney and officer of the court, I would never advocate my clients misrepresent themselves." Her voice turned gentle again. “That being said, Marinette cares for you. I would advise you both to consider all the options available to you.  Even ones you were not previously aware of.”

Marinette numbly watched Bisset walk around to the backside of her desk and opened a drawer.  She grabbed a stack of business cards and began shuffling through them.

"Here’s a card for child protective services.” She held out the card to Adrien, but he simply stared at it. Marinette reached over and took it.

“I sympathize with your situation, I really do. If you want to contact them, I’ve worked with Lucas before. They might not have the resources to go up against Gabriel Agreste, but they will try their best to advocate for you.”

A loud knock came from the other side of the door “Ma’am, your 11 o’clock is here.”

Bisset looked at her watch. “Only 75 minutes late.” She glanced at the wig in Adrien’s hand. “I’ll give you two a minute.”

Marinette stood up to leave, but Adrien remained motionless in his chair.  His eyes locked forward. She grabbed the wig from his hand and fished out the nylon wig cap.  He didn’t respond when she started smoothing his hair back.

Nothing had gone according to plan. Marinette felt ill, like someone punched her in the gut.  She focused on the work at hand, getting Adrien’s sweaty locks back under the cap. She didn’t want him to see how upset she was.

She really wanted to be angry at Ms. Bisset. She was supposed to save Adrien! Not give Gabriel Agreste court-mandated counseling sessions.  And to think, she even suggested that Adrien and her get ma… get ma...

Marinette winced.  Even her brain couldn’t say the word.  Karma was a bitch, wasn’t it? Or did the gods just have an ironic sense of humor?  All the years she dreamed about marrying Adrien back when she barely knew him. She cringed, thinking back to her former fangirl self.  She knew him better now, and he was even more amazing… but, but there had to be another way.

She positioned the wig on Adrien’s head. Then the beret.  It was a cheap wig, but the hat made it less obvious.

But… it would only be her name on a piece of paper, right?  Marinette ran her fingers through the blond nylon strands. She knew Adrien wouldn’t go to child services.  Not if the best he could hope for was counseling. No, he would go back to wherever he was living before. 

Marinette shuttered at the memory of Adrien, cold, sick, and filthy. It was stupid luck that Tikki heard him that night.  If Adrien disappeared now, she might never find him again.

She picked up the discarded leggings.  Adrien could probably use a bit of touch up on his lipstick, but she wasn’t going to worry about that now.

“Adrien?” She called gently. He looked her way but didn’t meet her eyes.  Marinette grabbed his hand and smiled the best she could. "Come, I could use a walk.”



Chapter Text

After they left Bisset’s office, they walked in silence. The wind was cold on Adrien’s bare legs, but he didn’t care. Not even the cold could distract from the crushing disappointment he felt in his chest.

He didn’t hold Marinette’s hand anymore, nor did he look over at his friend.  Poor Marinette; she had tried so hard.  The disguise, the attorney, they were all really good ideas. It wasn’t her fault everything had gone to shit.

They walked without a destination.  They walked by restaurants and cafés where people were happily going about their life. After about 45 minutes of silently walking, they arrived at the Trocadéro.  Businesses were setting up booths for the upcoming Christmas village.

They found a place to sit on the steps.  Adrien sat with his legs spread wide. He didn’t care who saw his disco balls.

He knew they should talk, but what could he say? Emancipation was a great idea, but too bad I’m such a freaking child. Adrien didn’t want Marinette to blame herself. She did an amazing job. And it wasn’t fair of Ms. Bisset to suggest she marry him. She had no right to humiliate his friend like that.

"I haven’t been a very good friend to you,” Marinette began, breaking the silence.

Huh? “No, Marinette. You’ve been…"

“Please,” she stopped him. “Please Adrien, just let me talk for a bit,” Marinette continued more gently. “I’ve misjudged you… so many times.

“I didn’t see you. When we met, I thought you were just a male version of Chloé.  A spoiled brat from a privileged life,” Marinette admitted. “But you were kind to me. Even after I treated you poorly.”

The wind started to pick up. A few leaves blew past, startling some pigeons.

“I, um… I kinda fell in love with you,” she whispered. “Or at least, I loved the person I thought you were.”

Adrien watched her. He didn’t know if he should act surprised.  Marinette had told Chat Noir that much, but this was supposed to be news to Adrien.

“You saw the best in people. You went out of your way to make me your friend, even though I was a stuttering mess.”

Marinette paused for a minute to gather her thoughts.

“But when… when Lila, you know….” She took a deep breath and looked up at the clouds. “I didn’t understand why you acted the way you did. I didn’t understand why you didn’t fight her.” She closed her eyes and winced. “I thought you were a coward. I didn’t understand, because I didn’t know how hard you were already fighting. I couldn’t see you were suffering. I couldn’t see how alone you were.

“Adrien,” Marinette turned to him, her beautiful blue eyes filled with tears. “You’re the bravest person I know.”

Adrien broke her gaze to stare at his feet.  She shouldn’t be saying that. “I’m really not. Not like you. You stand up to people. Chloé, Lila... even Ms. Mendeleiev and Mr. Damocles. You stood up to Ms. Bisset after knowing her for all of two minutes.”

“It’s easy to stand up to people when there’s someone to catch you if you fall. I’ve... I’ve always had that. You haven’t.”

Adrien shrugged.

“People always talk about how brave Ladybug is. But the only reason she has survived is because Chat Noir is there to catch her,” Marinette explained thoughtfully. Adrien couldn’t help smiling for a moment. “She couldn’t do any of it without him. Even when he’s not there, his encouragement and faith keeps her going.

“I have two wonderful parents who love and support me. They are kind and sweet, but if someone tries to hurt me, or make me uncomfortable… man,…” Marinette chuckled. “Watch out.”

"They are both bakers. They would love nothing more than for me to learn the trade and take over the business. Yet they encourage me to design because they know I love it.”

“Your parents are pretty awesome.” 

“Yeah…” Marinette agreed. “But, when I imagine what it would be like if my mother wasn’t there,… even silly things, like never having her soup again.” She winced and closed her eyes. “I can’t breathe, it just hurts so much.”

Marinette played with the cuff of her jacket. “You live with that every day, but you never show your pain. You don’t want to burden your friends like that.”

Adrien wasn’t sure what to say.  He never talked about his mother, it made people uncomfortable. Even with his father, or people like Félix, who had also lost a parent.

“And your father…” Marinette said hesitantly.

Adrien stiffened. It was no secret how Marinette felt about Gabriel Agreste, especially after their meeting with Ms. Bisset.

“I idolized him for years. I was inspired by his designs and I desperately wanted to believe he was a good person.” She played with a stray thread on her jacket. “I saw that he treated you poorly, but I pushed those thoughts away.  I wanted to believe the lie. You seemed happy, so I let myself think everything was okay.”

She didn’t speak again for a while. The pigeons started to come back, scraping and pecking at the ground.

“You’ve always been a good friend to me, Marinette,” Adrien spoke softly. “You don’t owe me anything.” He remembered all her actions over the past day and a half.

“And… I owe you so much.”

“You’re right.” Marinette sat up straight and crossed her arms. “You do owe me.”

Adrien looked over at her curiously, shocked by her change in tone.

“I’ve missed school, lost sleep, lied to my parents and friends.”

Adrien bit his lip, feeling guilty.

“The way I see it, I deserve something really special for all my efforts.”

Adrien was lost, he had no idea where she was going with this.

“A week ago,” Marinette continued, “if you had asked me what I wanted most... I would have said ‘to see Hawkmoth defeated’ or ‘to become a famous designer’.”

Adrien waited as Marinette took a deep breath.

“But now,... I just don’t wanna be afraid.”

“Afraid of what?”

“Afraid my wonderful friend will die on the streets, rather than accept any help.”

Adrien was silent.

“I would take a hundred more years of Hawkmoth, as long as I knew you would be okay.”

He swallowed hard, “You can’t really be considering…”

“Why not? If I, or Nino, or Kagami, were dying of a fever, and you could save me by signing your name to a stupid piece of paper..."

She met his eyes.

“Would you?”

“Of course. But this is different!"

“How?!”

Adrien looked down at his feet.

“I umm,… I know there are girls you are closer to, like Kagami or Chloé, but their parents are too close to your father.”

Marinette paused thoughtfully.

“The girl you're in love with. Could she help you?”

Adrien scoffed and shook his head. Kinda hard to marry someone when you don’t know their name.

It was silent for a few moments. Finally, Marinette crawled over and knelt in front of him.  He refused to meet her eyes.

“Please, Adrien.” Her voice cracked. "Please help me save my friend. I can’t do it alone. I need you.”

She reached over and grabbed his arm.

“Once, you called me your everyday Ladybug. Now, I need you to be my everyday Chat Noir.  My friend is in a dark place right now. He doesn’t see how amazing he is. More than anything, I want my dear, sweet, brave friend to survive. I need him to grow… and thrive. And I need him to know he is deserving of so much love.

“Please,” she begged as a sob escaped her throat, “Adrien, please help me.”

He couldn’t look at her. Marinette cupped his face and leaned forward, trying to force herself into his field of vision.  Adrien furrowed his brow and closed his eyes. He didn’t want to see her tears.

Her soft arms pulled him into an embrace, but he didn’t return it. She buried her face in his neck, and sobbed. God, he hated to see her cry. Adrien fought the desire to take her in his arms, to comfort her, to tell her it would be okay.

After a few minutes, Marinette’s breathing calmed. She moved back to her spot beside Adrien. She leaned against him and rested her head on his shoulder.

They sat in silence, watching a group of tourists go by.

Adrien couldn’t do this to her; it was too much to ask. If they did what Bisset suggested, the fallout would be too great.  His father was not a forgiving man.

No, Adrien sighed. He could be okay without her; just Plagg and him. He could learn to take better care of himself, find a better place to sleep at night. Maybe find work during the day. He could find a way to carry on, without hurting her.

He hated that he made her cry again. Marinette was such an amazing person. Adrien truly treasured the days he spent with her, sharing her life. He enjoyed how funny she was, how confident, how sweet. Adrien had always liked his friend, but getting to know her better, he couldn’t help feeling protective. Like he would do anything for her.

Adrien gulped. Anything?

He wouldn’t… he couldn’t ask her to do this, not for himself.

His heart was beating wildly in his chest.

But maybe, just maybe… he could help this sweet, beautiful girl save her friend. She needed his help after all.

Adrien took in a shaky breath and rested his cheek on her hair. “Marinette?”

“Hmm?”

“Will you marry me?"

Chapter Text

 

Adrien and Marinette sat on the steps of the Trocadéro as a light mist began to fall.  Adrien couldn’t help feeling a nervous giddiness in his chest. Did he really just get engaged? Marinette still leaned against him, with her head on his shoulder. He could feel the warmth of her body pressing against his side.

He didn’t want to get up. Things would change once they stood up, and Adrien wanted this moment to last a little bit longer. Still, his legs were quite cold by this point, and he wasn’t sure how warm Marinette was either. He suspected she was probably cold too, but, like him, was also drawing the moment out.

They stayed seated, watching pigeons and tourists, until the mist turned into light rain. When they stood up, they left a dry spot on the pavement.

Marinette didn’t say anything as they walked home. She hadn’t said anything in a while. That was okay though. Adrien smiled. She didn’t even say yes to his question, but nodded her head instead. But every now and again, she would look over and smile shyly.

She walked with her hands in her pockets. He wished he had pockets too, but the silly bolero jacket he wore just had useless decorative slits. Adrien’s arms swung at his side awkwardly. He thought about taking her hand, but would that be awkward now? She wasn’t really just a friend anymore?

Was Marinette his fiancée? 

Adrien blushed as his mind said the word. His feelings toward Marinette were complicated enough. Now things had become so much more so. 

Adrien’s eye caught his reflection as they passed by a store window. Wow, I really look like Mom, he mused.

Adrien gave a heavy sigh. What would Mom say if she knew he was getting married? Well, not really married. But what would his mom say about the lengths he would go to in order to get away from his father? He frowned at the thought.

Even at a quick pace, it took them a while to get back to Marinette’s. School had already ended for the day and the bakery would be closing soon. Adrien fell back as he saw Marinette head for the bakery’s main entrance instead of the side door.

When she saw him lag behind, she held out her hand, encouraging him forward. He took her hand hesitantly, her fingers were as icy as his. They walked through the entry door together.

Tom and Sabine both looked up as the bell above the door jingled. They smiled over at their daughter. Marinette squeezed Adrien’s hand and took a deep breath.

 “Mom, Dad,” Marinette spoke seriously, “we need to talk to you.” 

“We?” Tom greeted happily. “Who’s your friend?”

“It’s Adrien.”

“Adrien?” Tom looked confused for a moment as he eyed him up and down. Then he smiled sincerely. “Well, don’t you look lovely today?” 

Adrien winced.

“What do you need to talk to us about?” Sabine asked as she wiped down the counter.

“Umm..” Marinette glanced over to Adrien, then back at her mother.  “It’s kinda important.”

Sabine seemed to notice her daughter’s nervous behavior. “We can finish up faster with more hands. Then we can talk upstairs.”

Marinette walked over to the cleaning supplies. She grabbed a broom for herself, then handed Adrien a rag and spray bottle. 

“For the glass,” she whispered. Adrien walked over the display case and started to spray.

“So?” Sabine asked as she removed pastries from the display. “How was school today?”

“Oh… today was quite interesting,” Marinette idly replied, concentrating very hard on her sweeping. Adrien admired the clever deflection.

“Were you able to make up for your absence yesterday…? Oh! Adrien, sweetie, that’s enough.”

Adrien stopped spraying, the front of the glass case was dripping wet. 

“I’m so sorry!” He cringed. “I’ve never done this before.” 

“Nothing to be ashamed about. You tried something new.” Sabine touched his shoulder reassuringly. “A few extra towels and everything will be fine.”

Tom grabbed some clean towels and handed them back to Adrien. “And how was your first day back at school with your new...? .... identity?  What shall we call you now?”

“Adrien, please just Adrien.” He said it a bit deeper than necessary. Great. The two nicest parents I know think I am coming out as a woman.

After the bakery had been cleaned and the till counted, the four climbed the stairs to the apartment. With each step, Adrien’s anxiety grew. What were they going to say? Did Marinette have a plan? Adrien looked over to his friend, she was staring at the stairs in front of her and chewing on her lip. She probably did, Marinette always had a plan. Adrien just needed to trust her.

Once they reached the apartment, the two pairs sat on the L shaped sofa. Tom and Sabine on one side, Adrien and Marinette on the other. Sabine spoke first.

“Now what did you need to tell us?”

 “It's, umm… more like ‘ask’ you.” Marinette's eyes met his for the briefest of moments. She was nervous, maybe even scared. There was an obvious tension in the air. Adrien squirmed uncomfortably in his seat.

“Mom, Dad, I wanna help Adrien become emancipated,” Marinette announced, “but I need your help, too.”

Tom leaned forward with concern on his face. “Is your father not supportive of your new lifestyle?”

Adrien took off his wig. “It’s a disguise. I’m still a guy.”  He took a breath and continued softly, “I umm… couldn’t risk my father finding me.”

“You know how Gabriel treats him. It’s worse than an employee. All of his time is scheduled, he’s told what to eat, what to wear. Even when he can drink. Sometimes, he’s not allowed any water for 24 hours, all for stupid photoshoots.  Photoshoots where he doesn’t get a say in who touches him or not. Even if it makes him uncomfortable.” Adrien frowned, he hated how weak he sounded. 

“Anytime he steps out of line, his father threatens to pull him out of school and isolate him from his friends,” Marinette continued.

Tom and Sabine were staring at him now, their eyes full of worry.

“He barely sees his father, yet he’s expected to be alone in that giant, cold house all the time.”

“Adrien?” Tom asked gently. “Does your father not know where you are?”

“I ran away ten days ago,” Adrien admitted.

Sabine gasped. “Where have you been staying?”

“I have a few favorite rooftops,” Adrien shrugged. “At least when it’s not raining.”

“Two nights ago, Ladybug brought him here. He was unconscious.”

Everyone’s eyes turned to Marinette.

“He was so cold, Mom, ...and sick, and smelled like a dumpster.”

“You should have called an ambulance!” Sabine replied sharply.

“She made me promise not to!”

Adrien clenched his teeth. It was really unfair of Ladybug to do that.

“So Adrien’s been here, in your room, for days?” Sabine was staring at Marinette now, a disapproving look in her eyes.

Marinette nodded. “We met with an attorney today.”

“When? You were in school…” Sabine crossed her arms and frowned. “Go on.”

“I thought,” Marinette explained, “that since Adrien’s worked since thirteen, and he has money, maybe he could be emancipated and not have to go back.”

“What did he say?” Tom asked.

She said that without steady employment and proof he could care for himself, emancipation that way wasn’t really an option.”

Marinette took a deep breath.

“...But he could petition to get married.”

Adrien heard Sabine inhale sharply. “Oh my!”

Tom looked on bewildered. “I see. But other than making the most delicious wedding cake in Paris, how can we help?”

“They want to get married, Tom.”

“Married? To each other?”

“Yes, Tom.”

“But Marinette is too young.” His chin started to quiver. “She has her life ahead of her.”

Marinette knelt before him and grabbed his hand. “Dad, it wouldn’t be a real marriage. Just my name on a paper. But it would emancipate Adrien. He wouldn’t have to go back to his father.”

Tom brought he’s free hand to his forehead and sniffled.  “No, cupcake, no. I know you want to help, but we can try to find another way.” His voice cracked. 

“Adrien’s out of options. Please, Dad. I… I want this.”

Tom looked lovingly at his daughter. His calloused fingers stroked her delicate hair.  Adrien could see his eyes were full of tears. Tom leaned over and kissed Marinette on the forehead. The large man sighed deeply and fought back a sob. 

“Please excuse me for a few minutes.” Tom stood up and walked past, his face in his hands. Marinette watched her father walk away, still kneeling in front of the couch.

Adrien heard the bedroom door shut. He was in a daze.  Adrien has witnessed more genuine affection in the last few minutes than he had ever seen from his father.

“I’d better go check on him.” Sabine got up and left to join her husband in the bedroom. Even from the living room, Adrien could hear the hushed discussion and an occasional sob from Tom. 

“My dad's such a softy. People never suspect it, because he’s so big.”

“He thinks he’s losing a daughter,” Adrien whispered.

“He always overthinks things.” She climbed back onto the sofa, pulling her legs to her chest. “He got akumatized once after I was dumped.”

Adrien could feel himself beginning to sweat. “Who’d be crazy enough to dump you?”

“I wasn’t really dumped,” Marinette replied as she folded her arms across her knees. She rested her head on top of them. “He never liked me in the first place.” 

Adrien couldn’t help but feel a twinge of guilt. 

The rain was picking up now.  It drummed against the windows.  Outside, the sky was darkening, but Marinette made no attempt to turn on the lights.

They sat in the dark, in silence. The sound of the rain made it difficult to hear the discussion in the other room, but Adrien could tell they were still talking.

“It’s just my name on a piece of paper,” Marinette muttered, breaking the stillness.

“Not to them,” Adrien spoke softly. “You were in love with me for years. And also…” He paused to look over at the front door. “I was the boy sneaking out of your room that night.”

“Oh, yeah.” She gave a half-smile. “I forgot.”

Please see it! He silently begged. Marinette had been so painfully honest with him. It tore at his soul that he couldn’t be honest with her now.

“That must have been an awkward conversation.”

“Wasn’t so bad.” He chuckled weakly.

“Huh?”

“She hugged me.”

“No, she didn’t.”

“Ask her.”

They sat in silence again. Adrien wasn’t sure how much time had passed. The sky was completely dark now, Marinette was silhouetted against the ambient light coming from the street. He couldn’t see her features.

The other room was quiet now. Adrien wasn’t sure if that was a good sign or not. He could only hear the street noise and the pounding rain.

“I’m sorry I never knew,” Adrien chose his words carefully, “how you used to feel about me.”

“I’m not,” Marinette admitted bluntly. “I’m kinda nauseated by it, now.”

Adrien choked on his own saliva.

“No no no…” Marinette stammered, realizing what she said. “Not that you make me nauseous. I make me nauseous. Not ‘now’ me, the ‘old’ me. Ugh!” She buried her face in her hands.

Adrien smiled, he always thought flustered Marinette was cute.

He didn’t know how much longer they sat in the living room, but both of them jumped when the bedroom door finally opened. Sabine flicked on the lights as they walked down the hall. It seemed that the tiny woman was supporting Tom as he walked. Adrien noticed both of their eyes were red.

Tom and Sabine walked over to where the teens were sitting on the sofa. Adrien followed them with his eyes, but his body sat frozen. His heart pounded in his ears.

Sabine looked over to her husband, and Tom closed his eyes. She took a deep breath.

“We consent.”

With blinding speed, Marinette leaped into her father's arms. The big man lifted her off the ground and held her tightly, gently rocking her back and forth.

Sabine reached out to Adrien, helping him rise from the sofa. “You, too. Come here.” The tiny woman embraced him firmly around the waist. “You’re family, now.” 

Adrien found himself smiling as he hugged her back. Suddenly, he felt a large arm embrace both of them. And Adrien found himself in the middle of a group hug with the whole Dupain-Cheng family. His eyes were wet, but he knew everyone else’s were, too.

After a minute, Sabine pulled away and Tom dropped his arms. “Marinette, I have something for you. It was my mother’s.” Sabine showed her a small ring with a polished red stone.

“Oh, Mom!” Marinette gasped and brought her hands to her mouth.

“It’s a ruby,” Sabine told her. “Most are faceted these days. So, it might be a little old fashioned. But I thought you could wear it until you got something else.”

“It’s beautiful.” Marinette began to slide it on her right hand. She stopped herself midway, before putting it on the left. She held it up for Adrien to see and smiled shyly. It did  look really beautiful on her.

“Thank you, Mom,” She said looking at her hand. “And... thank you, Dad. For everything.”

“I always knew you’d make a beautiful bride,” Tom spoke, his voice barely a whisper. Tears were peeking past the corner of his eyes. “I just... I just thought I’d have more time.” 

Adrien saw her chin quiver. “Oh, Dad,” she cried as she threw her arms around him, squeezing her eyes closed tightly.

“So…” Sabine cleared her throat and took a deep breath, “who do we need to talk to about this?”

Chapter Text

Marinette promptly called Bisset and spoke to her for a few minutes. Now, they were waiting for the receptionist, Eva, to bring some documents to sign. A notary would be meeting them at Marinette’s house, as well.

In the meantime, they had a small dinner of Sabine’s chicken soup. Tom and Sabine did their best to engage Adrien and Marinette in conversation, but the teens were lost in their own thoughts.

Eva and the notary arrived shortly after the dishes were finished. Tom and Sabine provided their identifications and signed the document that would legally allow Marinette to marry. The notary stamped his official seal and left with a polite goodbye. Adrien also signed some forms giving Bisset the power to legally represent him, as well as permission to track down any bank accounts in his name.

After Eva finally left, Marinette handed Adrien his cleaned black pajamas and some makeup remover. He headed to the bathroom for a much-needed shower.

Adrien shut the door. It was the first time he had been alone in a while. He gazed at the door and smiled.  He remembered Marinette awkwardly pressing herself up against it, trying to give him privacy.

Plagg phased through the ceiling. “If you don’t wanna shower alone, you could probably ask your fiancée to join you,” he teased.

“Don’t joke, Plagg,” Adrien groaned. “Things are complicated enough.”

“Sooo… are you going to tell Ladybug about your upcoming nuptials? Getting away for patrol might be harder, now.” Why did Plagg seem so damn delighted?

“We can’t know anything about each other, remember?” Adrien replied automatically. “Nothing that could compromise our identity. She knows we are about the same age. And getting married at sixteen is pretty uncommon.”

“Might be more common than you think,” Plagg practically sang.

“You’re in a good mood.” Adrien poured makeup remover into a tissue and began wiping his face.

“I like it here.” With that, Plagg phased back through the ceiling, leaving a confused-looking Adrien behind.

After Adrien was done with his shower, he put on his pajamas and walked into the living room. Tom sat on the couch with Marinette and Sabine on either side. He had his large arms wrapped around their shoulders, and they leaned against him. Adrien couldn’t tell what they were talking about, but it seemed like a lighthearted conversation. They all stood up when they saw Adrien.

“Umm… sorry.” He must have interrupted something.

“Nonsense. We were just waiting to say goodnight.” Sabine walked over and kissed him on the cheek. Next, Tom pulled him into a giant hug and kissed the top of his head. Adrien blinked back at them wide-eyed and speechless. They bid him goodnight and headed toward their room.

“Are you coming?” Marinette asked halfway up the steps to her room.

“Um… should I sleep on the couch?”

“If you want. I can understand if it makes you uncomfortable, now, because of the way….” She swallowed hard. “Because of the way I used to feel about you.”

Adrien’s stomach dropped. Used to? Why was that so hard to hear?

“Oh, that?” He scratched the back of his neck nervously. “I kinda already knew.”

“Oh.” She winced and looked away. “I’m umm,... sorry if I ever made you uncomfortable.”

“You didn’t, but I was confused at times,” Adrien admitted. “But it doesn’t make me uncomfortable,” he spoke quieter now, “knowing how you used to feel.”

And just like that… it was awkward again.

“My parents get up really early, but I can bring down blankets…”

“I mean… are you okay? With me sleeping beside you, after everything? With all we are going to try to do…?”

“I am.” Her eyes met his for the briefest of moments. Then she bit her lip and looked away.  “Alya texted my assignments, I think I’ll work on them for a bit.”

They made their way up to Marinette’s room and brushed their teeth. Adrien headed to bed while Marinette sat down in front of her computer. Adrien crawled under the covers and stared through the skylight. The rain had stopped and a few stars peeked through the patchy clouds. He heard Marinette typing away at her computer, probably writing a report or something

Even with the awkwardness, Adrien couldn’t help but feel a bit of excitement in his chest. If they succeeded… if they managed to pull this off, he could come out of hiding. He could rejoin school and see Nino and his friends again. He could be free to have the social life he always wanted. And it would all be thanks to Marinette.

Marinette. His fiancée.

No. Adrien covered his face with his hands. No, not his fiancée, his friend. His friend agreed to marry him to free him from his father’s control. She didn’t have romantic feelings for him. Not anymore.

Things had become awkward between them again. Adrien sighed. He supposed it was expected, but he wanted to get back to the relaxed Marinette. The confident one that joked and played with him. He smiled; maybe he just needed to think of a good joke to get her to loosen up. Though, she did tell him no more jokes… but this was an emergency.

After about twenty more minutes of working at her computer, Marinette climbed up the ladder to her bed. Adrien held up the covers for her as she crawled under. He thought he saw her cheeks redden, but he didn’t say anything.

Marinette lay on her back beside him, her shoulder a respectable distance from his. They lay in silence staring through the skylight at the stars. 

Yup. Awkward.

Adrien winced. How in the hell were they going to pull this off? Bisset wanted them to meet with a judge tomorrow. Tomorrow! How were they going to convince a judge to help him? Why would she give permission for Adrien to get married, when he could barely speak to his bride-to-be?

Adrien needed to do something. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

He moved his leg until their feet were touching. Marinette jumped at the unexpected contact.

“Oh, I’m just checking,” Adrien said with a smile.

“Checking?”

“To see if you were getting cold feet.”

Marinette groaned at the bad joke. She turned onto her side and buried her head in the pillow. When her face finally peeked out, she was playfully glaring at him.

It worked! Adrien felt proud of his clever plan. 

“Though,” she teased back, “they are pretty icy.” Marinette brought her legs up, then pushed the bottoms of her feet against the side of Adrien’s stomach. He couldn’t help but squirm at the sudden coldness.

He grabbed the closest foot and brought it to his chest. He proceeded to press his palms on either side of the icy toes, trying to warm them up. Marinette closed her eyes and gave a contented moan.

Adrien realized he really liked that sound.

He rubbed her foot until he was satisfied that it was no longer cold. Then he grabbed the other one for its turn, hoping Marinette would make that sound again. 

She did.

After a few minutes, Adrien begrudgingly let go of Marinette’s foot, and she rolled onto her back. They stared at the sky once again. Adrien felt he should say something. So many things happened today. So much had changed in such a little amount of time.

“I don’t know how…” Adrien spoke softly, “I don’t know how I can ever repay you for this.”

“You don’t have to. I meant what I said earlier.” She turned on her side to face him. “I want to see you make it through this. That’s enough.”

“Still,” he turned his head to look at her. “If you ever need a model, I’m your guy.” He gave her his flashiest smile.

Marinette's face fell and she was quiet for a moment. “I never want you to model for me,” she said decisively.

“What? Why?” Adrien asked, confused. He would admit, he was more than a little hurt. “I’m good at it. It could get your designs more exposure… get people in the industry to notice you.”

“Maybe…” Marinette frowned. “But it was something forced on you. Something ugly. I don’t ever want to be a part of that.” She met his eyes. “I’ll support you if you want to model again.” She paused to shake her head. “But it will never be for me.”

Adrien dumbly stared at her, at a loss for words. Suddenly, his chest felt heavy. He turned his head away from her and shut his eyes. Then his stupid throat tightened up. What the hell, body? He twisted his whole body to face the wall, away from Marinette.

He brought a fist to his mouth as a sob threatened to escape. Why this? Why now? He didn’t want to cry in front of her. He didn’t even know why his body felt like crying. His chest heaved, but he refused to give in to the sobs. This was so stupid! He wasn’t even sad.

“Adrien, are you okay?” Marinette asked, her voice full of worry.

Adrien nodded, afraid to speak. Of all the things to happen, today. The attorney calling him a child, asking Marinette to marry him, the Dupain-Chengs welcoming into their family; why the hell was he crying now?

He felt Marinette’s arm at his side as she reached over to grab his hand. He squeezed it tighter than he should have, but he was grateful to have something else to focus on.

Adrien buried his head into his pillow as his body shook. He felt Marinette press herself against his back and rest her cheek against him. This is so stupid! Adrien couldn’t help but feel embarrassed; he shouldn’t be crying over this.

The sobs came whether Adrien wanted them to or not. He suddenly lost the will to fight them. Marinette already saw, anyway. He could try to explain later, maybe when he figured it out.

She continued to hold him as Adrien wept into his pillow. He tried to keep his sobbing as muffled as possible, but he knew she could feel it.

When his breathing calmed down, Marinette let go of his hand. She pulled herself away from his back and shook his shoulder. Adrien rolled over to see her kneeling beside him. She had an almost manic smile on her face.

“Hey Adrien, I have an idea,” she giggled excitedly.

He looked at her curiously. This was not the reaction he expected after he cried so shamelessly in front of her.

“I have an embarrassingly large amount of Gabriel ads tucked away in a drawer.” She grinned with an evil glint in her eye.

”Let’s go burn them.”

____

Adrien sat alone on Marinette’s balcony. Although the rain had stopped, everything was still wet and shiny. He rested on top of a towel that he had placed on the damp tiles. Another dry towel lay across from him, for Marinette.

It was the first time he had been to the balcony as Adrien, though as Chat Noir he visited more than a few times. Adrien smiled as he snuggled into the blanket wrapped around his body. Those were good memories.

Beside Adrien sat a very large pile of magazines, posters, and images printed from the internet. It was Marinette’s old collection. Adrien couldn’t help but feel amazed that she was sharing this with him. It was an embarrassing part of her past, and she trusted him enough to let him see.

Maybe one day he could tell her about Ladybug? He used to have a similar collection.

Before long, Marinette climbed out from the skylight. She had a blanket wrapped around her shoulders and a large mixing bowl in her hand. She knelt on the towel in front of Adrien, then took a strange looking device out of the mixing bowl. It was a metal cylinder with something like a gun attached to the end.

“Here,” she said, handing the strange object to Adrien.

He took it and stared at it. I have no idea what this is.

Marinette leaned forward and pointed to a small switch on the device. “You just need to disengage the safety, and pull the trigger.”

Adrien followed her instructions and a small compact jet of blue flame appeared almost instantly. He couldn’t help feeling giddy at the instant fire in his hand.

“It’s a butane torch. We use it for Crème Brûlée,” she explained enthusiastically. “But I thought it would be more satisfying than matches.”

Marinette set the large metal mixing bowl between them. Then, she reached over to the pile beside Adrien. She grabbed the first item, a magazine cover, and handed it to Adrien.

Adrien held the page in one hand, and the butane torch in the other. When he brought the flame to the edge of the paper, it immediately started to disintegrate. Once he was sure it was properly burning, he threw it into the bowl and reached for another one.

It should have felt weird, burning his own picture like this. The flame would blacken and distort the image of his face and body before they turned the paper to ash. It should have been disturbing, but Adrien found it mesmerizing.

Marinette didn’t say anything, she just watched him. The yellow light of the fire made her skin glow beautifully and her eyes twinkle. The night was cold and Adrien could see her breath as she exhaled. She looked really pretty in the firelight.

The bowl was overflowing with burning paper. Adrien released the trigger of the butane torch and set it down on the tile. The fire was quite tall now, and Adrien was sure they were probably breaking a few laws. Not that anyone could really see them. Not unless Ladybug happened to be patrolling.

Adrien smiled. He wouldn’t mind seeing her again. Maybe he could apologize for kicking her that night, and he could thank her for bringing him to Marinette’s.

He gazed over to his friend. She was watching the fire now, a soft expression on her face.

“What?” she asked suddenly.

Adrien realized that he was staring. “Oh, nothing. I was just thinking about you and Ladybug.”

Her face fell instantly. “Oh really? Ha! You know we’re nothing alike.” Marinette seemed strangely defensive.

“Well, I don’t think that’s true at all.” Adrien smiled at his friend. “In fact, I think you would make a good superhero.”

Marinette snuggled into her blanket, but Adrien could tell she was blushing.

“Hmmm….” He continued, “I think if it were up to me, I would give you a hamster Miraculous.”

“There’s no hamster Miraculous,” Marinette corrected.

“And how would you know?” Adrien asked playfully.

Marinette bit her lip and stared at the fire. After a few moments, she spoke, “Well, if it were up to me, I would give you a Miraculous, too.”

Marinette looked over to him, thoughtfully. “Hmmm… Maybe a puppy dog.”

“A dog!” Adrien tried his best not to sound offended. “Not a tiger? Or a panther?”

She wrinkled her nose. “No, I can’t really see you as a big cat.”

“Hey, I think I’d make a good Chat Noir.” He pulled his hair in front of his eyes, then brought his fingers up to a salute.

See me!

“Nooooo!” She smiled and playfully covered her eyes. “Now I'll never be able to unsee it.”

Adrien couldn’t help feel a disappointment in his chest. He crossed his arms defiantly. “Hey, I think Chat Noir is pretty cool!”

“I think you mean, purrrrty cool,” Marinette giggled at her own cat pun. Adrien thought the pun was minimal at best, but at least she was proud of herself. Her smile faded as she changed to a more thoughtful expression. “Yeah, he is. You’d make a good Chat Noir.”

He wasn’t sure why, but his heart swelled to hear her say that.

Adrien held a few more pages to the fire. He dropped them into the pile when the flames started to take hold.

“It was him, you know,” Marinette admitted shyly. “Leaving my room, and… um, my neck. It was him.”

“Oh,” Adrien said, trying to act surprised. Crap! How was he supposed to react to this information? Of course Chat Noir was bound to come up in conversation. He should have prepared for this, he should have had a plan.

 “Do you love him?” The words slipped out of Adrien’s mouth before he knew it.

“Well… he’s very lovable.” She grinned for a moment before her face fell. “Though, he loves Ladybug, not Marinette.”

I wouldn’t be too sure...

“Probably because he knows Ladybug,” Adrien said softly. “If he knew Marinette… he’d love her, too.”

Adrien handed her some photos from the pile. She took them graciously, then slowly added them to the fire.

“Um… Do you have any photos of a certain classmate?” Adrien’s eyes locked with hers. He saw a devious smirk form on her face.

“I think I might be able to find something.” Marinette shrugged off her blanket and made her way down to her room. She returned a minute later with a tattered looking magazine.

She sat down on her towel and wrapped the blanket around her again. She flipped through the pages until she found what she was looking for. A small half-page ad had been neatly covered by a piece of construction paper. Marinette carefully removed the tape, revealing Lila and Adrien’s perfume ad.

“You could burn the whole magazine if you want,” Marinette offered, handing it to Adrien. “I was meaning to buy a new one, anyway.”

He took it from her and reignited the butane torch. Adrien stared at Lila’s smiling face and at her fingers resting on his chest. His stomach felt sick as he remembered how she smelt that day. Adrien brought the compact flame to her eyes first. The picture blackened and burned almost immediately. He traced the torch along the lines of her body. Adrien didn’t really need the torch anymore, the magazine was already on fire. But there was just something so satisfying about making that bitch burn.

When there was nothing left of Lila’s image, Adrien threw it into the smoldering pile. Marinette was watching him intensely.

“I’m sorry,” he said, remembering the time they had discussed Lila at school, the time when he told Marinette not to confront her. “It must have been very confusing for you when the advertisements came out, with Lila and me.”

“It was a little.” Marinette took a deep breath and shrugged. “I just didn’t understand.”

“I made a deal with her.” Adrien watched her closely, waiting for a reaction. “For her to stop hurting someone. Someone I care about very much.”

Marinette's face fell, she suddenly looked very sad. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know…” She hugged her knees and turned her attention to the fire. “I thought she was only targeting me.”

Can anyone seriously be this dense?

Adrien reached for the next set of photos on top of the pile. It was the set he and Marinette had taken in front of the Eiffel Tower, as well as the ones with him and Juleka. Adrien’s brow furrowed in confusion.

“Why are these in there?”

“Oh, those…” Marinette stared at her hands. “It wasn’t fair of Alya to have you model; we asked you to be a technical director.”

“I didn’t mind. I had fun that day.” He thumbed through the photos in his hand. “Can I keep these?”

Marinette smiled and nodded.

____

After they ran out of pictures to burn and the embers had died, Marinette left to return the torch and the bowl to the bakery.  Without the blanket on her shoulders, the air was chilly on her skin when she opened the entrance door.

Marinette stepped out into the stairwell and closed the door.  She pressed her back against it and looked up to the ceiling. She felt a lightness in her chest, -like a huge weight had been lifted. 

Her hoard of Adrien photos was gone. All that remained were ashes.

“I’m so proud of you, Marinette!” Tikki exclaimed, suddenly in front of her. “You are being such a good friend to Adrien.”

“He knows, Tikki.” Marinette smiled. “He knows how I used to feel about him. It was my darkest secret, and he doesn’t mind.”

“Your darkest secret?”

“Well, maybe not my biggest secret.” She winked at her Kwami. “But it was the one I was ashamed of.”

“Are you going to tell him your other secret?”

“That I’m Ladybug? No! I can’t do that to him. Especially now.”

“Not that, silly,” Tikki explained. “Are you going to tell him that you're still in love with him?”

“I told you, I’m done with that.” Marinette began walking down the stairs. “I feel something else now. It’s different.”

“You still love him, though! And it’s obvious you think he’s attractive. I think Adrien’s starting to catch on to that, too.”

Marinette groaned. “It’s his fault for not putting on clothes.”

“And who taught him thatfriends can cuddle’? You two can barely keep your hands to yourselves when you're in bed, together.”

Marinette could feel her face turn bright red. “Tikki! Don’t say things like that. You know it’s different.”

“You love him, Marinette. You know that by marrying Adrien you will be making an enemy of his father; you’ll be giving up a career in fashion. You make Adrien laugh, you hold him when he cries, you nursed him back to health at great risk to yourself. Yes, it’s not the same as your crush. It’s not the same because it’s real love, not infatuation.”

Marinette stopped walking and stared at the tiny floating god.

“I can’t be in love with him, Tikki, not now.” She stared down at the bowl of ashes in her hands. “He needs me as a friend. That’s more important than anything else.”

Tikki floated over and rested on her shoulder. She gently patted Marinette’s cheek. “You love him so much, Marinette. Can you really get married and pretend that you’re just a friend?”

She looked at Tikki sadly. “I have to.”

“It will break your heart, Marinette.”

“I know,” she whispered back.

Marinette pushed open the outside door and threw the ashes into the dumpster. Then she returned the butane torch to the bakery and washed out the mixing bowl. By the time she headed back to the apartment, she was shivering uncontrollably. I should have grabbed my robe, she thought as her teeth chattered.

When she made it back to her bed, Adrien held up the covers for her. She crawled in beside him and curled up into a ball, grateful that the bed was already warm.

“You’re cold,” Adrien stated.

“Just a little.” Marinette’s teeth rattled together as she spoke.

“Here.” Adrien opened his arms wide, reaching for her. “Let me hold you.”

Marinette nodded as she uncurled herself. She scooted over and pressed her body against his, resting her head on the crook of his shoulder. An audible sigh escaped her lips as his warm arms wrapped around her, holding her tightly. She hooked a leg around one of his, further pressing herself into him.

Dear god, he was warm!

She felt her insides turn to goo as she melted into him. Okay, maybe this went beyond ‘friends can cuddle’ but Adrien didn’t know that. She lifted her face toward his neck, inhaling deeply. God, he smelled good!

Marinette’s cold skin was warming up fast. It wasn’t long before her shivers stopped completely, but she made no attempt to untangle herself from Adrien. Neither of them spoke, but it wasn’t like the heavy awkward silence, earlier. There was a cozy contentment to the stillness, and Marinette couldn’t help but feel deliriously happy as she snuggled against Adrien.

Her fiancé.

She knew things were complicated, and there was no way this would end without her getting hurt. But for right now, she wasn’t going to think about that. She was going to enjoy this moment for the gift it was. She was going to fall asleep in the arms of a boy she loved so much. And that was enough.

Marinette smiled as she felt Adrien kiss the top of her head.

“Goodnight, Marinette,” he whispered.

“Goodnight, Adrien.”

Chapter Text

Marinette twisted the ring on her finger nervously. She wasn’t used to wearing it; she wasn’t sure she should be wearing it. What if people saw it? Would they think she was really engaged? Or would they just assume she was just a little girl pretending, lost in her own fantasies…

Adrien sat beside her at a large conference table, his leg shaking anxiously. He wore his own clothes today: a torn pair of jeans and a black hoodie. His golden hair was once again tucked under his black knitted cap. Marinette gave him some glasses without lenses to wear. It wasn’t as good of a disguise as the previous day, but they wanted to make a good impression on the judge.

Bisset sat on the other side of Adrien, busily typing on her laptop. They were in an empty conference room at city hall, waiting for Judge Inés Travers to meet them during her lunch break. Bisset had worked with her before, and she believed Judge Travers might be a sympathetic ally.

Adrien stretched his arms overhead. Marinette’s eyes spied a familiar bracelet on his wrist.

“You still have that?” She smiled as she pointed to the luck charm she had given him years ago.

“Of course,” Adrien said with a soft smile. “I thought we could use a little extra luck today.”

Marinette’s face fell. “I wish I had mine,” she said softly as she shoved her hand in her pocket. In truth, she did have the charm Adrien gave her, or what was left of it anyway. She had pinned the tattered red cord to the inside of her pocket.

“I can make you another one, if you’ve lost it,” Adrien offered kindly.

Marinette smiled back then took a deep breath, trying to settle her nerves. If the judge didn’t allow Adrien to marry her, would she call his father? They were taking a great risk just having Adrien exposed in public.

Before long, a small woman joined them in the conference room. She introduced herself as Judge Travers and sat down at the table with them. Adrien pulled off his hat and glasses and began fixing his hair with his fingers. 

Travers grabbed a small container from her bag and began eating her lunch.

“Make it quick, Margot, I only have twenty minutes,” Travers spoke between mouthfuls of food. “What’s so important that you summoned me during my lunch?”

“I want you to bring criminal charges against Gabriel Agreste.”

Huh… wait! WHAT?! Marinette must have heard her wrong. She looked over to Adrien. He sat there with his mouth open, obviously as lost as she was.

Travers just raised an eyebrow at her.

Bisset continued, “I have witnesses who can testify that Gabriel Agreste is guilty of child endangerment, neglect, and extortion. I want charges brought against him.”

No! No! This wasn’t the plan! Marinette could feel herself start to panic.

“That’s quite ambitious, considering you are not a prosecutor and I am not a judge with criminal courts.” 

“They are overworked and underfunded.” Bisset smiled. “I want you to handle it.”

“That’s not how it works and you know it. Why are we here?”

“It has come to my attention that there has been repeated neglect and abuse at the hands of Gabriel Agreste.” Bisset opened her folder and held out a stack of paper to Travers. “As a woman of conscience, I must report it to the courts.”

“But why me?” Judge Travers took the documents and promptly set them on the table. She didn’t even look at them. “I will gladly hand these off to an attorney from Child Protective Services.”

“Do you think they have the resources to take on Gabriel? He’ll drown them in injunctions! That would take away precious hours that could be spent helping countless other children.”

“Again. Why are we here?” Travers was beginning to seem annoyed.

Bisset tapped her finger on her jaw. “There might be a way to avoid a messy and expensive legal confrontation.”

“Are you going somewhere with this?” Travers glared as she took another bite of her salad. 

“Adrien Agreste wants to marry his fiancée, Marinette Dupain-Cheng. Her parents have already consented. I have their notarized consent form here.” Bisset handed Judge Travers another piece of paper. She actually looked at it this time.

Oh, thought Marinette, that was part of the plan.

“We just need a signature, and this whole messy thing goes away. Also, Adrien has almost 2 million Euros in assets.” Bisset handed her a printout.

“And let me guess…” Travers looked up from the document. “His father doesn’t consent?”

“Without both parents, his consent would not be enough. His mother, Emilie Agrests hasn’t been seen in over three years. And that’s where you…”

“But his father doesn’t approve,” Travers interrupted.

“To my knowledge, he does not oppose the marriage.” She flipped through her folder, grabbed a magazine clipping, and handed it to Travers. “In fact, Gabriel has publicly praised Marinette Dupain-Cheng's design talents.”

Marinette was beginning to believe Bisset had spent all night gathering information on them. It made her squirm to think about.

“Adrien and Marinette have had a long and publicly documented relationship,” Bisset continued, pulling out printouts of various Instagram posts. “Including a photo where Miss Dupain-Cheng was in a state of undress.”

Marinette peeked at the photo in question. It was taken years ago, right after Adrien’s fragrance ad debuted. They had tried to hide in a fountain.

“Marinette?”

She froze at the sound of a familiar voice. Her face fell as she turned to see Mayor Bourgeois in the open doorway. 

No, no, no!

“Marinette? What are you doing here? Is everything all right? Are you in trouble?”

Why is he here? Marinette grimaced. Oh yeah, she remembered they were at the city hall, there was always a chance they might run into him. But why did he have to walk by this room, at this moment? She cursed her luck.

“Do you know this girl?”

No, no, NO! He’ll see Adrien!

“Why yes, she is in the same school as my daughter. Oh my goodness! Adrien, is that you? Chloé has been beside herself with worry.”

It’s over. We’re dead!

“You know both of them?”

“I’ve known him since he was a toddler. My wife and his mother were the very best of friends, why I remember…”

“They want to get married,” Travers stated bluntly.

“Ah, young love!” Mayor Bourgeois clasped his hands together.

“Do you have any reason to doubt their intentions?”

“Why, no…”

“There you go, Margot.” Travers took another bite of her lunch.

“Mayor.” Bisset stood up and walked over to where the Mayor was standing, obviously changing targets. “Would you be willing to give consent, as a public authority figure, to allow dear Adrien to marry his sweet young bride?”

Marinette stared open-mouthed. Not only had Bisset changed targets, but her whole demeanor shifted too. It was probably some type of strategy. 

Mayor Bourgeois took out a handkerchief and dabbed his eyes. “So romantic. Reminds me of my dear…”

“Would that be a yes?”

“Of course! I’d be delighted.”

All the air left Marinette’s body. Was that it? Did he just…? She blinked in confusion. Did they do it?

“...and about the waiting period,” Bisset pouted sweetly, “ten days is such a long time when you’re young and in love. I don’t suppose you, as mayor, could hurry things along?”

The Mayor smiled proudly. “I might know a clerk who could backdate a few documents.”

“Why, Mayor Bourgeois!” Bisset brought her hand to her chest. “I had no idea you were such a romantic.”

”Just to be clear,” Travers said sternly. “I didn’t hear any of that, just now.”

Marinette was beginning to think what Bisset was asking wasn’t entirely legal.

“And when exactly were these two lovebirds thinking of having the ceremony?” Mayor Bourgeois asked.

“Well, Judge Travers has about ten more minutes before she heads back to court.” She looked over to where Travers was sitting, eating her salad. “What do you say, Inés? When was the last time you got to be a witness?”

“Do you have a certificate?”

“Oh, I can send it over later for you to sign.”

Travers stood up with her salad and fork in hand and walked over to stand beside Bisset. Mayor Bourgeois walked forward and took his place in the center of the room. Marinette watched dumbly, unable to comprehend what was happening.

“Get up you two!” Bisset said with a wink. “Go stand in front of the Mayor.”

Uh? What? WHAT?!

Adrien rose and offered her his hand. Marinette took it as he helped her to her feet. Together they walked forward and stood in front of the Mayor. Adrien dropped her hand and stood across from her.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Mayor Bourgeois began, “let me welcome…”

“Just jump to the civil code, André,” Travers cut him off. “I don’t have much time.”

“Yes, yes, of course.”

Marinette could barely comprehend the words that Mayor Bourgeois was saying as he recited the required text of the marriage civil code. This can’t be happening! This can’t be happening!

She gulped and looked up to Adrien. His face was pale and his eyes were wide. I hope I don’t look that frightened, Marinette thought. She took a deep breath and gave Adrien a nervous smile.

It was too soon. She needed more time. Marinette looked over Adrien’s shoulder at Judge Travers noisily eating her salad. This just felt wrong. She wasn’t ready! Marinette wanted her parents here. Calm down, girl! It’s not about you. It’s about emancipating Adrien.

“Adrien Agreste, do you agree to take Marinette Dupain-Cheng as your wife?”

Are we to this part already? Marinette's heart pounded in her ears. She looked up to Adrien, desperately hoping he didn’t look as terrified as she felt. He met her eyes. There was an intensity to his gaze that Marinette couldn’t describe. She saw his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed.

“I do.”

Marinette felt like all the blood had left her body, her feet could no longer feel the ground. Control yourself, girl! This was part of the plan. It’s not real, it’s not real.

“Marinette Dupain-Cheng, do you agree to take Adrien Agreste as your husband?”

Marinette blinked. Oh god! It was her turn now. She still held his gaze. She swallowed hard but her mouth still felt dry.

“I do.”

She saw Adrien’s shoulders relax.

“My dear, is there a church service planned?”

Marinette turned away from Adrien to look at Mayor Bourgeois. “Umm... no…?”

“Splendid! I do love when I get to do the ring exchange.”

“Oh, we can’t-” Marinette responded quickly, “Adrien doesn’t have a…” She looked down to see a plain silver ring on Adrien’s right hand. Marinette blinked in confusion. How had she never noticed that before?

She looked up to Adrien. His eyes held a moment of panic before they changed to determination. He pulled off his ring and handed it to her. The ring felt heavy in her hand, heavier than it looked. Maybe it was platinum? Marinette took off hers and held it out to Adrien. He took it shyly.

Adrien’s palms were sweaty as he slipped this ring onto her finger. Mayor Bourgeois was talking again, but Marinette could only focus on the tiny ring on her hand. She had worn it all morning, but it somehow felt different now that Adrien had put it there.

Marinette’s fingers shook as she reached for Adrien’s hand. Breathe girl, breathe! The cool metal ring effortlessly slid on his finger. Adrien grabbed her hands and squeezed them tightly. Marinette looked up and met his eyes. His handsome green eyes were wide with shock, -as if he couldn’t believe what was happening, either.

“By the power vested in me, I declare Mr. Adrien Agreste and Miss Dupain-Cheng united by marriage. You may kiss your bride.”

Seconds passed and Adrien was frozen in place. Marinette was acutely aware that they were being watched by three other people in the room. She needed to act. Now.

Marinette stepped forward and reached for Adrien. She rolled up on her toes and cupped his face in her hands. She met his eyes for the briefest of moments, before her gaze fell to his lips, then back to his eyes. Marinette searched his eyes for forgiveness for what she was about to do. Adrien seemed to understand. His focus dropped to her mouth as he lowered his eyelids.

Marinette tipped her chin up as Adrien leaned down. She could feel his breath on her face. You can do this! Marinette’s heart raced as she closed her eyes and pressed herself against his soft lips.

Then, for the first time in her life, Marinette kissed Adrien Agreste.

She felt his lips lightly push back into hers. Marinette sighed into the warm softness. She felt a light pressure at her sides as Adrien’s hands gently wrapped around her waist.

Marinette jumped when she heard Bisset clap suddenly. “Congratulations, you two!”

Marinette stepped backward shyly. It was done. Oh god! I just married Adrien! She looked down at her hands. She couldn’t look at him again, not now.

“Now, Inés,” Bisset was using an all-business tone, “...about young Adrien’s assets?”

“What about them?” Travers answered flatly.

“They are... in trusts.” Bisset smiled. “A court order would be a wonderful wedding present for our newlyweds.”

“Dammit, Margot!” Travers glared at Bisset before holding out her hand. “Let me see.” Bisset pulled another page out of the binder. “Who were the contributors?”

“For one, the €250,000, Adrien is the sole contributor. The other was set up by his mother.”

Marinette knew she should be paying attention, this was important. But she just married Adrien! Oh god, oh god! Did that really just happen?

“I won’t touch the one set up by his mother, but Adrien can have access to his own money. I will not dissolve the trust, but I will change the terms. Funds will be made available in installments. Equal parts, over the next 60 months.”

“Five years?” Bisset asked, obviously disappointed. “But it will be months before he can cover my retainer.”

“Then he can get a job,” Travers handed the page back to Bisset, “...like the rest of us. Type it up, have it to me by three, I’ll see it filed along with the marriage certificate by the end of the day.”

Traves left for court with a quick goodbye. Adrien once again donned his cap and put on his lensless glasses. Marinette numbly followed the mayor and Bisset out of the conference room. Her mind still hadn’t caught up with the events that had happened in the last fifteen minutes. She glanced over to Adrien. He was holding his left hand to his chest, staring at his ring.

They headed down to the clerk’s office where Mayor Bourgeois talked his way into getting the necessary paperwork. Bisset had the Mayor sign the document that would authorize Adrien to marry. After that, they all signed the marriage certificate.

Bisset took the certificate, then she left to go create the court order that would allow Adrien access to his funds. She promised to have Travers sign both before the end of the day. Once the marriage was on the record, it would effectively emancipate Adrien. They would just have to wait until five o’clock.

After Bisset left, Adrien and Marinette were left alone in the lobby with Mayor Bourgeois. He smiled excitedly at them as he wrapped an arm over Adrien’s shoulder.

“So… when is the reception? Will there be dinner?” he asked enthusiastically.

“Umm…” Marinette’s eyes met Adrien’s for a moment. His expression was of total bewilderment. Luckily, Mayor Bourgeois didn’t notice. “We have nothing planned,” Marinette explained weakly.

The mayor leaned over and spoke into Adrien’s ear. “Saving your energy for the honeymoon, eh?”

Adrien choked and began coughing.

Marinette nervously scratched the back of her neck. “Nothing planned there either.”

“Nonsense. Young love must be celebrated!” the mayor playfully chided. “My hotel’s honeymoon suite is always empty, midweek. You must come stay. It can be my wedding gift to you.”

“Oh… thank you for the offer, but... we can’t,” Marinette awkwardly smiled. “We haven’t anything packed.”

“Our suite is stocked with all the essentials a young couple could need. I’m headed there myself, I could give you a ride.”

Marinette looked over to Adrien. She wanted him to say something, but he still had a lost puppy look on his face. Mayor Bourgeois wrapped his arms around her shoulder and squeezed both the teens.

“I insist. Come, my driver should be out front.”

Marinette shrugged and followed the mayor outside. True to his word, his town car was waiting. Mayor Bourgeois was boisterously reminiscing about his honeymoon with Audrey. Marinette was doing her best to tune it out. God! The man loves the sound of his own voice.

The Mayor got into the front seat with the driver, while Marinette and Adrien climbed into the back.  She held out her fist shyly. Adrien seemed confused for a moment before he bumped it with his own. Marinette took a deep breath and leaned back into the seat. They did it! By five o’clock, Adrien would be emancipated.

She didn’t say anything on the ride to the hotel, nor did Adrien. Luckily, Mayor Bourgeois didn’t mind, he just seemed happy to have a captive audience.

As they sat in traffic, Marinette stared out the window. She was married. Like, really married! Marinette was a wife, and Adrien was her husband. She felt heat rush to her face. It’s not real, it’s not real. Marinette told herself that over and over again.

Her mind went back to the moment she kissed Adrien’s soft lips. He never flinched, he kissed her back! Marinette felt her heart racing at the memory. Oh god! And now they were going to spend the night in a hotel!

Marinette squeezed her knees together. She had spent the last few nights sleeping next to Adrien, the fact that they were going to a hotel shouldn’t make it weird. It’s not like Adrien saw her like that, anyways.

But that was before I knew what his kiss felt like. Marinette bit her lip. Okay, maybe this was bad. She looked over to Adrien. He was staring out the window, idly twisting the ring on his finger. He had a relaxed expression on his face. Almost… happy?

He’s happy because he’s been emancipated! Calm down!

That’s right, Marinette smiled. Adrien will never have to return to his father. He will never have to do another photoshoot, again. He can eat and drink whenever he wants. And no one will touch him again unless he wants it.

Suddenly, Marinette felt ashamed of her lustful thoughts.

He doesn’t see you like that, Marinette reminded herself. She leaned her head against the window. He married you because you asked him to do so, because you wanted to save him. Nothing more.

She closed her eyes and remembered the feel of Adrien’s kiss. She needed to commit it to memory. It was probably the last time she would feel it.

When they arrived at Le Gran Paris, they used the side door to get inside. Marinette wasn’t sure if it was still being watched by Gabriel’s men, and it was still several hours until the paperwork would be officially filed.

Mayor Bourgeois was still recounting the early days of his marriage as he walked Adrien and Marinette to the honeymoon suite. She looked over to Adrien, wishing she could tell what he was thinking. 

“Well, my dears,” Mayor Bourgeois said as he opened the suite door. “The rooms are empty to either side, so you don’t have to worry about any noise.

Marinette winced. Please stop! You are going to embarrass Adrien.

“Enjoy ravishing your bride!”

Chapter Text

“Enjoy ravishing your bride!” Mayor Bourgeois nudged him before he shut the door to the suite, leaving Adrien alone with Marinette.

The two stood in silence.

As soon as Adrien was sure Mayor Bourgeois was no longer in earshot, he jumped back and held up his hands. “Don’t worry Marinette, I’m not going to ravish you!”

Marinette groaned and hid her face in her hands. “Exactly what every bride wants to hear on her wedding right,” she mumbled, her words dripping with sarcasm.

“What?” Adrien sputtered.

“Oh god!” Marinette exclaimed. “Did I say that out loud?”

“Do… Do you…?” He was stammering, now.

“Um… it was a joke, forget I said it!” Marinette gave the worst impression of laughing that he had ever heard.

“Okay, I’ll forget it,” Adrien lied. 

“Wow, look at this place!” She stiffly walked over to inspect a picture on the wall.

Adrien looked around the room. He had never been in a honeymoon suite before, but he couldn’t imagine they were supposed to look like this. Gaudy reds, golds, and pinks decorated the large hotel room. Heart-shaped pillows adorned the bed. It was tacky. He wondered if Chloé helped with the design.

“Oh,” Marinette said suddenly. “I should call my mom, tell her where we are.”

“We don’t have to stay,” Adrien offered.

“Do you want to explain to Mayor Bourgeois why we would be leaving?” She put her hands on her hips. “You could have said something, earlier.”

He shrugged.

Marinette walked over to the window and pulled out her phone.

“Hi, Mom…”

Adrien watched her fidget nervously.

“Um… it went very well.” She took a deep breath. “We’re married.”

There was a long pause.

“Hello, Mom? Are you there?”

Adrien wished she was closer so he could hear.

“It’s sooner than I thought, too. We ran into Mayor Bourgeois. He was able to pull some strings, so we wouldn’t have to wait. Pretty lucky, huh?”

“I know.” Her voice grew quiet. “I wanted you there, too.”

He felt guilty; of course she wanted her parents there.

“Um… about that. The mayor gave us a night in his hotel as a wedding present.”

There was some silence on Marinette’s end for a few moments.

“I know,... I know… Do you want me to talk to Dad?”

“Okay. We’ll see you in the morning. Love you, too. Goodbye.”

Adrien stood silently, watching her.

All of a sudden, there was a knock on the door. When Adrien answered, a hotel employee rolled a room service cart inside.  The man proceeded to unwrap a bottle of champagne and twist off the cork. Adrien watched as he poured two champagne flutes and set them on the cart. He lifted a metal cover to reveal a plate of chocolate and strawberries. “Compliments of Mayor Bourgeois,” the man said formally before he left with a curt bow.

Adrien stared at the bubbly liquid in the glasses, then shrugged. He grabbed them and walked over to Marinette. He lifted the champagne flute toward her, gesturing to her to take it. Once she did, he lifted his own up to hers.

“To my Everyday Ladybug,” he said softly to her.

She grinned as she clinked her glass against his. “To my Everyday Chat Noir.” 

Adrien took a sip of the champagne. Huh, it was really sweet. Probably best not to have too much right now, he hadn’t eaten any lunch.

Marinette walked over and grabbed a few strawberries with her free hand and went back to inspecting the décor. He heard her exclaim loudly when she turned down a hallway leading to the bathroom. “There’s a huge tub in here! Oh, wow. They even have bubbles!”

Adrien chuckled. He doubted it was any bigger than the tub he had at his father’s.

“You should take a bath, then,” he called to her. “I won’t look.” There wasn’t a door, but the tub and sink were out of view of the main room.

Marinette giggled. “I think I will,” she called back.

Adrien heard the faucet turn on and the tub start to fill. He popped a strawberry in his mouth and took another sip of champagne. He smiled. They did it!

“I’ve never been used as a wedding ring before.” Plagg flew out of his pocket.

“Shhh… Plagg,” Adrien warned. “She’ll see you.”

“Nahhh… She’s busy talking to herself. I can hear.” Plagg flew over to the tray of food. “What, no cheese plate?”

Adrien set down his glass and flopped back onto the bed, stretching his limbs wide. In just a few hours the paperwork would be filed, and he would be legally emancipated, legally married.

They had somehow pulled it off. Adrien thought they were screwed when Mayor Bourgeois appeared in the doorway, but he ended up being a much better ally than the judge. Still, he didn’t think they could push things through this fast. Adrien looked at the ring on his left hand. He sure as hell wasn’t expecting to get married today.

“Just so you know,” Plagg warned, “I’ll be in the next room over if things get mushy.”

After a few minutes, the sound of the running faucet suddenly stopped. He heard the water gently splash. Marinette must be getting into the tub, now. Adrien’s mouth suddenly felt dry.

He took a sip of champagne and tried very hard not to think about his wet and naked bride. Okay, maybe he wasn’t really trying that hard. Marinette had really been amazing, today, especially when he froze. Adrien flushed when he remembered how she kissed him. It was so gentle, so sweet.

He really liked her kisses. Adrien nestled into the pillow, replaying the feel of her lips over and over again.

He went to take another sip of champagne, but his glass was empty. Adrien frowned as he rolled off the bed and onto his feet. He walked over the bottle, feeling quite relaxed. He refilled his glass and took a bite of one of the chocolates.

He heard the sound of water moving again. “Awww… I’m out of champagne,” Marinette pouted.

“I could bring you more?” Adrien offered slyly.

Plagg rolled his eyes and phased through the wall.

“Sure,” she replied enthusiastically. “The bubbles cover everything, anyways.”

Adrien grabbed the Champagne bottle and a few strawberries and headed toward Marinette. He grinned. A very naked Marinette.

When Adrien saw her, she had her hair piled high on her head, and her wet collar bones stuck out above the bubbles. Her cheeks were pink and she looked extremely relaxed. Adrien thought it might be better to kneel beside her than to stand.

He poured the champagne into her empty glass. “You’re looking quite comfortable.”

Marinette just giggled in response. 

“I also brought you some strawberries. I was worried I would eat them all.” He held out his hand to her.

Marinette brought her hands out of the water to reach for them, but the bubbles stuck to her fingers. She stared at her hands for a moment before her eyes locked with Adrien’s. Then she opened her mouth.

Adrien gulped. He realized he was very, very warm. Without breaking eye contact, he gently placed a strawberry into Marinette’s open mouth. She closed her eyes and moaned with delight as she ate her strawberry. Adrien really liked hearing her moan. One by one, he fed her the remaining strawberries the exact same way.

But all too soon, Adrien ran out of strawberries. He frowned at his empty palm. Marinette smiled and took another sip of champagne, then dipped deeper into the tub, hiding her collarbones.

Adrien was sweating when he returned to the main room. When the hell did it get so hot in here? Adrien pulled off his hoodie and shirt. He undid his fly and kicked off his pants. This was okay, right? It was nothing Marinette hadn’t seen before.

He looked down to his waistband. Okay, maybe that was something Marinette hadn’t seen before. It would probably be best if he stayed seated for a while.

The afternoon sun was starting to shine through the windows. Adrien pulled the blackout curtains closed, before returning to the bed. Tiny beams of light peaked past the corners of the curtain. It made the room darker, but there was still plenty of light to see.

He propped up the pillows before leaning against them.

After a while, Marinette emerged from the bathroom. She was wearing a short silky robe that perfectly matched the décor of the gaudy suite. Her hair was wet and unbound. She had combed it back away from her face. Adrien smiled as she walked toward him.

“You look really pretty, wet.”

Shit! Did I really just say that? Adrien cringed at his choice of words. Perhaps the champagne was affecting him more than he thought.

Her face fell for a moment before she smirked. “I prefer you in your other boxers, Nino’s balls look good on you.”

Adrien grinned. Marinette was joking again, that was always a good sign.

She walked over to the room service cart and gazed down to the plate. “Awhhh… only one lonely strawberry left.” Marinette looked over and smiled. “Do you want to share?”

“I do,” Adrien responded playfully, “but there is no way I am standing up, right now.”

Marinette picked up the strawberry and walked toward the bed. “Has the champagne gone to your head?” she asked with mock concern. Marinette sat in front of him on the bed. Then she bit the strawberry in half before offering it to him.

“Not at all.” Adrien leaned forward and took the strawberry from her with his mouth, his lips brushing her fingertips.

Adrien watched her as they savored their strawberry together. Her cheeks were pink and there were droplets of water still stuck to her neck. He felt an overwhelming desire to lick them off.

Look away! He scolded himself. His eyes dropped to her hands, resting in her lap.

Adrien reached forward and grabbed her left hand, the one that had the little ruby ring on it. He gently raised it to get a better view of the ring; the ring he had put there, the ring that made her his wife.

He brought her hand to his lips and gently kissed her knuckles. Was this going to be too much? Adrien heard her sigh into his touch. He turned her hand over and slowly kissed the inside of her wrist, daring her to pull away, but secretly hoping she wouldn’t. When he looked up, her eyes were watching him intently. She made no attempt to pull her hand back.

Adrien wanted to touch her more, but he didn’t want to scare her. Slowly, he slipped his arms around Marinette’s waist, pulling her into an embrace. His heart was pounding as he felt her arms wrap around his shoulders.

He buried his face deep in her neck, inhaling the scent of her. As his hands were gently caressing the silky fabric of her robe, Adrien wished he could lock this moment in time. He gave a contented sigh into her neck.

Marinette burst out laughing and wiggled out of his arms. Her hand flew up to her neck at the spot where Adrien’s face was touching.

Adrien felt an evil grin rise on his face. “Marinette?” he asked lightheartedly. “Are you ticklish?”

“No, no, not at all.” Her response was unconvincing. “Why? Are you?”

“Nope!” In truth, Adrien had no idea. It had been a long time since someone tickled him.

She bit her lip as her eyes traveled down to his stomach. Adrien reacted a split second too late as Marinette hands flew forward to tickle his ribs. 

A hearty laugh escaped his mouth as he tried to twist away from her fingers. Adrien rolled over to the other side of the bed and stared back at her, planning his next move.

She was eying him as well, with an amused expression on her face. Adrien realized he was at a disadvantage. His ribs were an easy target, but he dared not try to tickle Marinette there. It would be too easy for his hand to slip inside her robe. Oh man, if he wasn’t blushing before, he definitely was, now.

Adrien pushed himself into a kneel and held his arms out wide, daring Marinette to try again. Almost instantly, Marinette pounced. Once again, Adrien felt her fingers on his ribs, but this time, he was prepared. With both hands, he attacked her neck. She squealed with laughter as she tried to turn away, her own tickle assault forgotten.

Marinette flopped to the other side of the bed in a temporary cease-fire. Adrien could see her eyes darting around, trying to find an advantage. He needed to act quickly, he could never beat her in a long game. She was too good at strategizing.

He lunged forward and grabbed her foot, pulling her toward him. Her robe may have revealed a bit more flesh than modesty would allow, but Adrien kept his focus on her eyes. He was a gentleman, after all.

He brought his hand to her captive foot and tickled. Marinette giggled and squirmed out of his grip. Then, with a loud thunk, she fell off the bed and onto the floor.

“Marinette! I’m so sorry!” Adrien was by her side in an instant. He held out a hand, offering to help her up.

Smiling, she took his hand then rose to her feet. Then, with incredible speed, she flew behind Adrien, twisting his wrist to his back. He found himself effectively pinned to the bed, blinking as to how he got there so fast.

“I got you, now!” Marinette playfully boasted.

Adrien grinned. “I should have chosen that safe word.”

The taunt had its desired effect, and Marinette’s grip loosened for just an instant, but that was all Adrien needed. He rolled out of her grip and ducked behind her. As he stood up, he hooked his arm under her knees and grabbed her shoulders. He lifted Marinette high before he threw her on the bed.

Marinette recovered fast, within moments she was kneeling on the bed, again. Her arms were raised for battle and she had a teasing smile on her face. “Give up, Agreste!”

“Haven’t you heard? I’m Mr. Marinette Dupain-Cheng, now!” Marinette’s mouth dropped in shock. Adrien took advantage of the moment to pounce, once again aiming for her neck.

He didn’t get very far. Adrien soon found himself landing face-first on the bed, his wrist once again pressed to his back.

“Where did you learn to fight like this?” Adrien was honestly impressed.

“Growing up in a bakery, you learn to be tough,” Marinette explained gleefully. “Bread thieves.”

“Bread thieves?”

“Always been a huge problem. There’s a famous book about one.”

Adrien tucked his legs under him before launching himself forward, breaking her grip. He rolled off the bed and onto the floor. Adrien quickly rose to his feet and crouched with his arms wide.

Marinette was a good fighter, he’d give her that. Perhaps it was time to change strategies. Perhaps even time to play a little dirty.

She was kneeling on the bed again. Her eyes were darting around, but her stance was ready to attack. Adrien crept back toward her, staying just out of her reach. He stared at her, begging her eyes to meet his. Once they did, he started his plan. Alright, here goes!

He forced his face into a frown as he shifted his eyes to the door. “Chloé? What are you doing here?” Adrien called out.

Marinette froze. Her eyes filled with panic. She turned very slowly toward the door.

YES!

Adrien jumped. His arm wrapped around her waist as he threw her down to the bed. He grabbed her wrists and held them high above her head. Her legs attempted to kick him, but she was too late. He knelt on her thighs, restricting her movement! Marinette wiggled underneath him, but she couldn’t get free. He had her completely pinned.

“I have you now!” he boasted. “I win.”

“Wrong!” Marinette denied, her eyes twinkling with amusement. “I have you exactly where I want you.”

Adrien leaned forward until their foreheads almost touched. “So you’re admitting you want me, then?” 

Marinette’s face fell as she realized the implication of her words. She stared into Adrien’s eyes for a moment before a tiny smirk appeared on her face. Her gaze traveled down to his waistband before meeting his eyes, again.

“Looks like the feeling is mutual.”

Adrien felt a huge wave of heat wash over his face. He swallowed but his mouth still felt dry. He stared back at her dumbly before his brain was able to find any words. “I didn’t think you noticed.”

“Kinda a big thing to not notice.” She lightly moved her wrist against his hands, wearing a satisfied smile on her face. Even pinned, she had him on the defensive.

Adrien leaned forward until his mouth was right outside her ear. “Well, the word is…” he whispered, “my bride wants to be ravished on her wedding night.”

He heard Marinette gasp voicelessly.

Adrien said it as a joke, as a continuation of their playful banter, but the mood had changed, instantly. He backed away from her ear until he could see her eyes. Adrien released her wrists and climbed off her legs, but he still held himself above her.

Her eyes were locked with his. Marinette's chest was rising and falling fast. Adrien realized he was panting, too, though he wasn’t sure if it was because of their tickle fight or something else.

Marinette licked her lips. Adrien’s heart was pounding as he followed her gaze to his mouth. “Well, what does my groom want?”

Adrien couldn’t breathe. Marinette was looking at his eyes, again. Her expression was a mixture of curiosity, fear... and desire? She wasn’t pinned anymore, but she still held her hands above her head. It was the sexiest sight Adrien ever saw.

He knew he should answer, but he was terrified of breaking this moment. And Adrien really liked the way she was looking at him, right now. But he knew Marinette was expecting a response. Adrien wasn’t ready for this to end, but he wasn’t sure how Marinette would respond if he pushed forward.

He summoned all his courage and smiled back at her.

“I want to please my Princess.”

SHIT! A cold shiver washed over Adrien as he realized he called her the wrong word. Princess was Chat Noir’s name for Marinette, not Adrien’s. Marinette’s eyebrows wrinkled in confusion, seemingly wondering if she heard correctly.

Distract! Distract!

Adrien lowered his head until his lips were just above hers. “May I?” He asked, his lips creating feather lights touches against hers.

Marinette sighed as she pushed her lips into his. Oh god! She’s kissing me back! Her warm mouth melded to his as he kissed her over and over again. He felt Marinette arch her back and she pressed her fingers into his hair.

He coaxed her mouth open and instantly her wet tongue met his. Marinette whimpered into his mouth as jolts of electricity shot through Adrien’s body. His arms felt weak and Adrien worried they would give out any minute. He lowered himself onto Marinette's body, sighing into her soft warmth.

Marinette’s arms reached around to his back to embrace him, further pressing him into her. Adrien moved the kisses from her mouth, to her jawline, to the soft skin of her neck. The sexiest noises were coming from her now, and Adrien couldn’t get enough. He raked his teeth along her skin, wishing he could grab the soft tissue into his mouth. But he didn’t want to leave a mark.

Adrien pulled himself away from her neck and looked at her once again. Marinette smiled back with a relaxed contentment on her face. Adrien brought his forehead to hers and closed his eyes. 

“We should stop,” he sighed.

“We really should.” Marinette agreed, but there was no conviction in her voice. “But I don’t want to.”

“I don’t want to, either,” Adrien admitted, his voice almost a whine.

“Then don’t,” she whispered against his lips.

Once again Adrien’s mouth was on hers, kissing her deeply.

Marinette raised her leg and hooked it around his back, and he felt the soft skin of her thigh gliding along his side. He brought his hand up to hold her leg, then he slipped it upward until he grasped the curve of her bottom. Adrien pushed himself against her, feeling the moist heat of her most intimate area. Only the thin fabric of his boxers separated them.

Adrien knew he should stop. They had both had a very emotional day. Plus, there was more than a little champagne in their blood, and their brains were fuzzy. But... Adrien groaned. He had never wanted anything more in his life, than he wanted the girl wrapped around him.

He knew this was not a time to be making choices they could not take back.

Adrien lowered his kisses to the exposed part of her chest.

He knew this was not going to end well.

He reached down to loosen the knot of her robe.

But that was a problem for future Adrien.

 

Chapter Text

It was dark when Marinette opened her eyes. Her room never got this dark. She stretched under the soft sheets, aware of her naked skin against them. Her mouth felt weird. Dry. Probably from the champagne. She rubbed her tongue along her teeth. They could use some brushing; her breath was pretty bad.

She reached over to where Adrien had been, but his place was empty and the sheets were cold.

“Adrien?” she called out to the dark room.

“I’m… I’m so sorry, Marinette.” Adrien was sitting in a chair by the window, a featureless shadow in the darkness.

“For what?” Marinette asked as she reached to the ground, fingers searching for the silky fabric of her robe.

“I shouldn’t have…” he continued. “You had been drinking, and I....”

She found her robe and swiftly put it on. “You were drinking, too.”

“But... I’m a guy.” His voice was so small.

“That shouldn’t matter.” Satisfied that her robe was tied, Marinette turned on the lamp on the nightstand. Adrien squinted in the light. He sat in his boxers, watching her from the chair.  When Marinette saw him, her heart sank. His eyes were red, and there were tear tracks running down his face. “Adrien, are you okay?”

He wouldn’t look at her. “I took advantage of you, I hurt you. You’ve been so good to me and I….”

“Stop it! I was there, too.” Marinette was really starting to get worried now. “And you didn’t take advantage of me.”

“But you had been drinking…”

“Maybe, but I wasn’t drunk.”

“I took something from you. I broke your trust.” He was staring down at the ring on his hand.  “There is absolutely nothing I can do to make it right.”

“Adrien. There is nothing to fix. I’m not broken.” Marinette watched for a reaction, but Adrien continued to stare at his ring.

Did… did I just break Adrien ? Marinette flushed at the memory of a few hours ago. Yeah… things moved super fast, but they both knew what they were doing. Or so she thought. Gulping, she tried to evaluate Adrien. He was sensitive, right now. And…. He is in love with someone else. Of course he's going to feel guilty. She sighed. Marinette couldn’t help with that, but he didn’t need to feel bad about hurting her.

“You didn’t hurt me,” she stated firmly. Adrien just stared at his ring. If he heard her, she couldn’t tell.

Marinette huffed, she wasn’t getting through to him. Not like this, anyway.

“Ugh. Fine!” Marinette stood up and walked over to Adrien. He watched her passively as she took his wrist and pulled him to a stand. She started dragging him away from the chair.

“Where are we going?” he asked, obviously confused.

“If you're determined to beat yourself up for this, you leave me no choice. I’m going to prove to you I’d have sex with you sober.”

Adrien stopped in his tracks, mouth open.

“Don’t test me Adrien,” Marinette turned and pointed a finger at him, “or I will mount you where you stand.”

Adrien blinked, an expression of pure shock and confusion on his face. He didn’t move, his body frozen in place. After a few moments, Marinette was beginning to believe she honestly broke him. She was about to wave her hand in front of his eyes, when she saw the corner of his mouth twitch, before he exploded with laughter. Marinette tried to keep up with the charade, crossing her arms and glaring at him, but she soon found herself giggling back. 

He laughed, he truly laughed. It was music to Marinette’s ears.

“That was the worst threat I have ever heard,” he said between chuckles. Adrien’s face suddenly dropped. “Wait. You were bluffing, right?”

“Ummm,” Marinette winced and gave a little dance, her knees squeezed together. “I really need to brush my teeth and pee.” She looked into his eyes. There wasn’t any pain anymore. In fact, he had an amused expression on his face. She reached down to squeeze his hand reassuringly.

“Hey, Adrien, it’s okay. Really. You didn’t hurt me. It was new and… um, more intense than I thought, but umm… fun. Not fun in a ‘silly haha way’, more like a ‘I might explode any time’ sort of way. But a good type of explosion, not the shrapnel and guts type.” Girl, please, shut up!  “Look, I’m all right. And it’s okay.” Marinette swallowed hard and took a deep breath. “It’s okay that you are not in love with me.”

Adrien paled almost instantly, looking like a kicked puppy. He looked back at her with sad eyes. There was a new tension in the air. Marinette hoped that getting Adrien’s feelings out in the open might help. He wasn’t deceiving her; she knew he wasn’t in love.

“I could be.” He then whispered, “It wouldn’t be hard.”

Icy cold shivers traveled down Marinette’s body as she heard the words she had always dreamed of hearing. She blinked away tears as she took a shaky breath. You can do it girl, you can do it!

“I don’t want you to be in love with me, not now.” She meant every word, but it ripped at her soul to say it.

“But why…?” Adrien looked betrayed. “You used to be in love with me, right? We could start over…. You could love me again, couldn’t you? Tell me what you need me to do, and I can-”

“Adrien, look at me,” Marinette interrupted. She stepped forward and cupped his face in her hands. His sad eyes met hers. A sob was rising in her chest, but she willed it away.

“I. Love. You.”

“You love me?” he repeated, a confused expression on his face.

“I love you so much it scares me.” Marinette took a deep breath. “I’ve loved you for years for your kindness and sincerity, but that was before I knew you. Now, I love you for your strength, your courage, your tenderness, your playfulness, and even your bad jokes.” Marinette felt tears form at the corner of her eyes. “You survived through hell, and came out the other side. You’re broken.” She stroked the hair away from his eyes.  “But that makes you even more amazing.”

“You love me?” he repeated, again.

“Yes, I love you.”

“Then why?” His voice cracked with confusion. “Why can’t I love you back?”

“I’m umm… I’m your lifeline, right now. Your port in the storm. I’m not saying what you feel isn’t real, but if Ladybug brought you to someone else, maybe you would be here with them.”

Adrien frowned at her. “You really think that?”

“You didn’t choose me,” Marinette stated sadly. “Ladybug gave you to me.”

He stared back at her in confusion.

“Well, umm... we are not alike. We come from different places.” Marinette shrugged, her insecurities starting to rise. “There are parts of your life I might never fully understand. You were raised isolated, by a cold father. I had a warm home with lots of friends.”

“That’s not important.”

“Maybe not now. But it might be, later. Please, Adrien,” Marinette felt her throat tighten, “I can’t let myself believe I get to keep you.” She lowered her gaze to the ground, she couldn’t look at him.

“So, you're allowed to be in love with me but I can’t be in love with you?” There was hurt in Adrien’s voice. “That’s bullshit! You don’t get to decide how I feel.”

“Adrien, please!” Marinette clenched her fists. “You’re in love with someone else! You can’t just decide to fall in love with me in a day.” She looked up to see Adrien’s shoulder’s slump. “And you still don’t know me very well. There are parts of my life you don’t know about, parts I’m not ready to share.”

“So? I have my secrets, too.”

“Adrien, before this, you… you...  never saw me as anything other than just a friend.”

He stared at her for a minute. 

“So… that’s it? So, if I had asked you on a date, or kissed you, or....” His voice started to crack. “If it was really me sneaking out of your room, that night.” Adrien choked on the words. “You would believe I could love you.”

“Don’t do that to yourself, Adrien. Look, when you’re eighteen, we can divorce. You can go out on your own for a bit. Then, if you want me, truly want me... we’ll get married, with a big church wedding with friends and family. We’ll make babies. We’ll have a dog, and a cat, and a hamster. We’ll do it right.”

“So... I just need to be patient?” he said softly, confusion still in his eyes.

“What? No,... well yes, ugh… No, you need to discover what you want. Who you are, without the control of your father. And as complicated and messy as that is, I will be your friend through all of that.”

“So, now, we’re just... what? Good friends who happen to be married?”

Marinette nodded.

“I may be sheltered, but I’m pretty sure good friends don’t do that. ” He gestured toward the crumpled linens on the bed.

Marinette’s eyes fell to the bed. Oh boy,... yeah… She bit her lip. “Well,... Sometimes things can get out of hand between friends?”

“‘Out of hand?’” Adrien repeated, raising his eyebrows.

“And it was a special occasion.”

“‘Special occasion?’” A hopeful expression started to overtake his face. “There’s Christmas coming up.” Adrien stepped forward until he was right in front of her. Marinette had to raise her chin to meet his eyes. “That’s Christmas eve and Christmas day. Then New Years. Not to mention I have five names. That’s a lot of name days.”

Adrien took her hand and brought it to his lips. Without breaking eye contact, his soft lips planted a long slow kiss on her knuckles. Marinette felt his arm wrap around her waist, pulling her closer. She found herself pushed up against his chest, her arms grasping his shoulders. Feeling his body pressed up against her was invoking all sorts of memories, memories of a few hours ago. “And about our ‘wedding night’…“

“Does that end at midnight?” Adrien lowered his lips until they were right outside her ear. “Or do we have until breakfast?”

Marinette gasped as she felt her knees weaken. Adrien’s words caused tingles to cascade down her spine. She grabbed onto his shoulders for support.

She felt Adrien nuzzle into her neck, and Marinette couldn’t help but close her eyes. He feels so good! A tiny whine escaped her throat as Adrien started to plant tiny kisses on her skin. This was okay, right? Umm… what were they arguing about again?

Adrien's kisses wandered back to her jaw. Marinette opened her eyes as she felt him cup her face in his hand. Oh god! He was staring at her lips again. Marinette’s heart pounded in her chest as he started to lower his mouth to hers.

Suddenly, she pushed Adrien away and covered her mouth. “I’m sorry, I just really need to brush my teeth!” 

Marinette turned and ran into the small room that contained the toilet. She sat down and tried to steady her heartbeat. “Tikki! Tikki! Help!” Marinette whispered as loud as she dared.

“Yes, Marinette?” The tiny pink god phased through the wall into the room.

“What do I do?”

“About what? Your husband?”

“Don’t call him that!”

“But he is.” Tikki playfully giggled. “In every sense of the word.”

“Don’t tease, Tikki. I… I… think he wants to… to… umm… do that, again.” Great, she couldn’t even say sex.

“Isn’t that a good thing? You both enjoyed yourselves.” Tikki settled herself in her hand. “If you're uncomfortable, just tell him. He’ll understand.”

“I’m not uncomfortable, but it’s just… complicated. He doesn’t really know how he feels. He’s probably not ready for… for this.” Marinette’s shoulders slumped.

“For sex?”

“Tikki!” Marinette whined.

“It’s a little late to decide that, now. Didn’t you tell Adrien it was okay?”

Marinette buried her face in her hands. “I don’t know what I’m doing, Tikki. It felt right at the time. I mean, we just got married... there was champagne, and tickles..."

“Marinette, two people coming together can be a powerful healing tool. You’re accepting him for who he is on a very physical level.”

“So, you’re saying it’s good for Adrien?” Marinette raised an eyebrow.

“I’m saying don’t overthink it. Do what feels natural.”

“So, you don’t think we went too far?” Marinette asked. “It wasn’t too much, too soon?”

“Marinette, I’m a god of creation.” Tikki smiled and danced through the air. “What you and Adrien did was an act of creation!”

“Oh, no, no, no…” She paled at the suggestion. “We were safe! There was no creation going on, nope!”

Tikki giggled and flew up to nuzzle against Marinette’s cheek.

“Are you okay with this, Marinette? Adrien knows you love him. He thinks he could love you back. Why not let him try?”

“It wouldn’t be fair to him. He’s so desperate for love, for a home. Just because I’m the first person to offer him that, doesn’t mean he owes me anything.” Marinette sighed. “And it’s not fair to me, either. Not now. Besides, I would always wonder if he would have chosen someone like Kagami, someone more like him.”

“And if he falls in love with you, anyway? How long will you push him away?”

“I’m not pushing him away. I’m just…” Marinette shrugged, why are things always so complicated? “I’m just letting him know he can leave. When he turns eighteen, he can leave. There will be no hard feelings.”

“Do you really think he’ll want that? After almost two years of living with you? Two years of accepting your love? Two years of sharing yourself…” Tikki floated out and looked at her with concerned eyes. “...in very intimate ways. Do you think he could just walk away?”

“I’m trying to do the right thing, Tikki,” Marinette whined. “I need him to know he still has a choice. I need him to know that I’m his friend first, before any of this other stuff.”

“The strongest marriages are rooted in friendship.”

Marinette bent her head down. Arg! If this is so confusing for her, even with the help of an ancient god, how could Adrien figure out his feelings on his own?

“What are you going to do, Marinette? Adrien’s waiting for you.”

Yes, Adrien was waiting for her. A fluttery excitement started to build in her belly. She wanted to be with him, and he wanted to be with her. Everything could just be so good! But Tikki’s words rang in her ear. Would she really be giving Adrien a choice if they treated this as a real marriage? After years of neglect and isolation, Adrien was so starved for touch, starved for love. Would he be able to walk away? Was it fair to have an intimate relationship now?

“Well, maybe it’s okay… for tonight.” Marinette blushed. “It’s our wedding night, after all.”

__

When she emerged from the tiny room, she saw Adrien standing in front of the sink, cheerfully brushing his teeth. He smiled a foamy smile at her and held up a cellophane wrapped toothbrush with a Le Grand Paris logo. Marinette took it graciously, and was soon brushing her teeth alongside Adrien.

There was something so delightfully domestic about brushing their teeth together.

He finished before she did, then he leaned against the counter, watching her. No... not leaning, posing somehow. Marinette swore he was flexing in a way that made his abdominals stand out. And he had a smirk on his stupidly sexy face.

Marinette knew she was being watched. Let him wait, she thought evilly. After she finished brushing her teeth, she reached inside the hotel gift basket and grabbed some floss. Adrien glared at her as she pulled out a length of thread and began to floss. She might have taken a little more time than she usually would have, now that she had a captive audience.

When she finished, she turned to throw the floss away into the trash. Strong arms encircled her waist as she felt herself being pulled backward. Marinette covered his arms with her own and leaned her head back against his shoulders. She closed her eyes and sighed into his warmth.

She felt Adrien’s soft kiss on her cheek. She could smell the minty toothpaste on his breath.

It was still her wedding night, right? He still held her from behind as she turned her face towards him. He was looking down at her, there was barely any space between their noses. Marinette smiled as she saw his eyes focus on her lips. 

He was slowly moving to kiss her, when a loud growl erupted from his stomach. Giggles bubbled out of Marinette’s chest.

“Nooo!” Adrien whined as he buried his face into her neck, prompting further laughter.

Suddenly, the arms that held Marinette pulled away and Adrien’s fingers tickled her stomach. She spun out of his arms with a big smile on her face. “Someone’s hungry,” Marinette teased playfully.

“I am.” Adrien grabbed her by the waist and pulled her close. “But not for food.”

Marinette heard another loud growl from his belly.

“We should probably order from room service before the kitchen closes.” Marinette smiled at Adrien’s pouty face. She raised her finger and booped his nose playfully. “It’s okay. There’s plenty of time before breakfast.”

Chapter Text

Marinette’s lips moved as she dreamed; Adrien thought it was extremely cute. It wasn’t light yet, but Adrien had pulled back the curtains awhile ago. The ambient light of Paris gave the hotel room plenty of light for Adrien to watch his bride sleep.

Their wedding night would be over soon. When the morning came, somehow, Adrien would have to go back to being Marinette’s friend. That was what she wanted. Tenderly, his fingers caressed the back of the beautiful girl sleeping beside him. Though, he really liked being her husband.

Adrien wasn’t sure what changed, exactly, or when it happened. Ladybug’s presence in his thoughts were fading. He had been in love with her so long that it became routine. It was part of his identity, rather than a burning passion. Thinking back to his last few interactions with her, though, Adrien hadn’t enjoyed them at all.  Still, that was probably more his fault than hers. One thought made him smile about Ladybug, however; she had brought him to Marinette.

“Chat…” whispered Marinette in a dream.

Adrien rolled over and kissed the skin of her shoulder. He chuckled softly. Are you dreaming about Chat Noir on our honeymoon? Good thing I’m not the jealous type. In truth, it filled Adrien with joy that Marinette loved Chat Noir. She loved both sides of him. Every side of him. She saw him dirty and broken, and yet was still here.

He needed to tell her. Marinette needed to know about Chat Noir. If she knew they had kissed before, maybe she could believe he could fall in love with her. Adrien’s fingers wandered up to Marinette’s hair. He gently stroked the soft strands away from her face.

Earlier, when Marinette had told him she wanted to keep their intimacy a one night deal. Adrien was disappointed, but he understood her hesitation. She didn’t believe his feelings. To her, they appeared out of nowhere. So, she needed to know they had kissed, she needed to know he was Chat Noir.

Adrien winced thinking of how well that conversation with Ladybug would go. He knew she would be against it, not wanting to put a civilian in danger. Maybe he could give Marinette a miraculous? For her safety? Of course it couldn’t be the mouse. Ladybug would recognize Multimouse right away. Maybe the Dragon? Adrien smiled as he imagined her shapely body in a red and black bodysuit. Marinette would look really good in red.

He turned and looked at the clock; they should be leaving soon. Chloé would be knocking on their door the minute she found out he was in the hotel. It was a miracle she had stayed away as long as she had. Mayor Bourgeois probably realized this, and tried to give their wedding night as much privacy as possible.

Though, Chloé would know soon. A worse thought had Adrien gulp; his father would know soon, too. Bisset had left a text on Marinette’s phone that the paperwork was filed. Adrien was officially emancipated in the eyes of the law. If Gabriel tried to take him back by force, it would be considered kidnapping.

Though, even if he didn’t try to physically take him, Adrien knew his father would be furious at the emancipation. He had handled his wrath before, but Adrien couldn’t bare the thought of Marinette or her family being the target of Gabriel’s anger. Adrien sighed and looked over to his sleeping wife. She was willing to give up a career for him. But maybe… maybe she didn’t have too?

Adrien rubbed his eyes. He needed to give his father a reason not to go after Marinette. That could work, right? His father was a rational man. And for all his flaws, Adrien knew his father cared for him. Perhaps, he just needed to think of a peace offering? To give something Gabriel wanted, but without having to submit to his father’s control.

But, for now, Adrien didn’t want to think about that. He would deal with that when necessary. There were much happier things to think about, like seeing Nino again. A giddy excitement filled Adrien’s chest. Today, he was going to re-enroll in school, and there was nothing his father could do to stop him. He could hang out with his friends whenever they asked. He could go to movies, go skating, attend parties, go to sleepovers….

Though, Adrien thought as he gazed at Marinette’s sleeping body, he really liked sleeping beside her. Spending all night gaming with Nino didn’t have quite the appeal it once had. Sure, every night wasn’t going to be like last night, but cuddles and cheek kisses felt really good, too. Slowly, Adrien propped himself up on his elbows and leaned over Marinette. 

“Princess,” he whispered deliberately into her ear. Ladybug couldn’t really blame him if Marinette figured it out on her own. Maybe her dreams would connect the dots for her? “Time to get up, soon.”

“Chat…” she grumbled in her dream, rolling her body away from him. “Unless there’s an Akuma, let me sleep.”

Adrien scoffed. Silly girl, if there was an akuma, what exactly were you planning to do?

__

Marinette and Adrien left Le Grand Paris hand in hand. She really liked the feel of his hand in hers, the warmth of his palm contrasting the cold morning air. The stars were still out, but the city was already stirring. It would not be long before restaurants opened for breakfast, but Marinette was eager to get home.

They walked silently, exchanging shy smiles every few minutes.

Sabine and Tom smiled when the pair entered the bakery. Within moments, they were on the other side of the counter taking turns embracing Marinette and Adrien. Their hugs were warm, but Marinette could sense a tenseness to them.

She mentally thanked Adrien that her neck was free of any blemish. That would have only added to the awkwardness levels.

“So, Adrien,” Sabine asked. “What are your plans now?”

Marinette shifted her feet nervously. They never talked to her parents about what came after getting Adrien emancipated. Were they expecting him to get an apartment on his own? Her stomach twisted at the thought. “Umm... the judge gave Adrien access to some of his money, but only in installments. It might be a while before he can cover his lawyer’s retainer. I was hoping he could stay here.”

“Oh sweetie! That’s not what I meant. Adrien’s family, now.” Sabine pulled her into another hug and rubbed her back. “Of course he can stay. But will Adrien be contacting his father now? Will he be returning to school?”

“I’m hoping to start it again, today. And I don’t think I need to worry about contacting my father,” Adrien responded confidently. “I think he’ll come find me.”

__

“I don’t understand. What are we waiting for?” Adrien complained as he paced back and forth up in Marinette’s apartment. There was plenty of time before school started, but kids were already starting to arrive. Marinette watched from the window; it wasn’t time. Not yet.

She looked over to Adrien. He was practically vibrating with excitement. “Trust me, we shouldn’t leave, just yet.” She winked. Come on, Nino! Hurry up!

Ever since Adrien left school, Nino had been showing up early to wait for him. Every day, he sadly sat on the steps of Françoise Dupont High school, looking in the direction of Adrien’s house, hoping to see his car. To Marinette, Nino needed to be the first one to welcome Adrien back.

Finally, she spotted him shuffling toward the school, his shoulders slouched. Perfect! By the time they got downstairs, he should be sitting on the top of the steps. “Okay,” Marinette turned to Adrien excitedly, “we can go now.”

Adrien peeked out the window and his face lit up when he saw Nino. He then raced out the front door and flew down the stairs five at a time. “Wait for me!” Marinette called after him. Perhaps it was a bit selfish of her, but she didn’t want to miss this.

“Nino!” Adrien yelled as soon as he got to the street. Nino didn’t hear, he had his large headphones over his ears and was staring in the other direction. Marinette had to grab Adrien’s wrist to keep him from running through traffic. He bounced up and down excitedly, waving his free hand. It reminded Marinette of the excited toddlers she saw in the bakery.

Once traffic had cleared, and they had safely crossed the street, Marinette let go of his wrist. Adrien sprinted towards the steps shouting his friend’s name. Even from a distance, Marinette could tell the exact moment Nino heard him. His face fell and he stared back unblinking, as though he had seen a ghost. The shock only lasted a second or two until he staggered into a stand.

“Adrien?” Nino called hesitantly. “Dude! ADRIEN!!” Suddenly, Nino was stumbling down towards his friend. They collided at the base of the stairs, pulling each other into a giant bear hug.

“Oh my god, dude! It’s really you.” Nino lifted the slightly smaller boy off his feet. “Shit! I was starting to think I’d never see you, again.” As Marinette walked closer, she noticed the tears falling down Nino’s face.

“I’m back.” Adrien patted the other boy’s back, his own eyes full of tears. “I’m so sorry I worried you!”

“Worried?!” Nino choked. “I thought you were dead!”

“I can’t believe it! Adrien’s back!” shouted Ivan as he saw them. Soon, Adrien was surrounded by classmates, and other curious students of the school. Marinette kept her distance, a ridiculously happy smile on her face. Everyone took turns giving Adrien a hug. Well, not really turns. After every hug, Nino would jump in to embrace his friend, again.

Before long, Marinette felt a hand on her shoulder; Ayla stood beside her grinning. “Glad to see you back, girl. I was starting to get worried.” Marinette saw her friend smile at the hug-fest in front of them. “It’s good to see Adrien back, too.”

“Yeah,” Marinette sighed happily. “It’s good to have Adrien back.” She watched contentedly as more and more people started gathering. Even students who were not in their class welcomed Adrien back. She could tell Adrien was beyond delighted, surrounded by people happy to see him, again. Happy to have him in their lives.

“Uh oh, girl,” Ayla said, concerned. “Are some old feelings coming back?”

“It’s ummm... complicated.” Marinette blushed. It’s not like they could keep their marriage a secret, but Marinette wanted this morning to be just about Adrien.

Out of the corner of her vision, Marinette spotted Lila. She stood away from the group, talking on her phone. Marinette could guess who she was calling. Well, it won’t be long now.

“So, how did you do it?” she heard Nino ask. “How did you get your Dad to let you come back?”

“I didn’t!” Adrien laughed as he looked over to Marinette. His eyes locked with hers. Marinette held his gaze and smiled. Everyone seemed to notice the focus of Adrien’s attention. Soon, everyone was staring at Marinette, as if she held the secret to a great mystery.

She licked her lips and took a deep breath. “Adrien’s been emancipated.” 

For the briefest of moments, Marinette saw hurt in his eyes, his shoulders slouched and his face fell. Suddenly, Nino grabbed him by his waist and lifted him high into his arms. “Oh my god! Dude! WOW! Congratulations!”

Adrien, once again, found himself a recipient of a new round of hugs and fist bumps. Slowly, as the start of school drew near, the entire class walked Adrien to class. Well, Marinette scoffed, not everyone in the class. Lila had disappeared.

The students filed into the classroom all at once. “Why, Adrien! Hello, it’s good to see you, again,” Miss Bustier greeted cheerfully

“Good morning, Miss Bustier,” Adrien responded back. “I’ve been emancipated. I plan on rejoining school. May I sit in?

“Of course.” Miss Bustier smiled. “Now class, settle down and take your seats. We are already starting late, this morning.”

Marinette watched Adrien take his seat in front of her. Nino sat beside him with a stupid happy grin on his face; he couldn’t take his eyes off his friend. Marinette giggled. A good thing Alya wasn’t the jealous type. Nino looked like he was in love.

A door slam startled Marinette out of her thoughts. She looked up to see an angry Chloé Bourgeois in the doorway. Her face was red and her hair was unkempt. She wore an expression of rage and bewilderment, her eyes glaring at Adrien. Oh no! Here it comes!

“Please take your seat, Chloé,” Miss Bustier instructed, ignoring her appearance. “Class is about to begin.”

“Adrikins, how could you?!” Chloé pointed an angry finger at Adrien. “You could have come to me! You didn’t have to... have to….” Suddenly, Chloé looked nauseous.

Adrien jumped up and pulled his oldest friend into a hug. Chloé clung to him for dear life, sobbing into his shoulder. “Shhh… Chloé, It’s okay. I’m back now,” he whispered, rubbing her back. 

All of a sudden, Chloé pulled away, her eyes locking onto a new target.

“And you, Marinette Dupain-Cheng!” Chloé spat the syllables of her name. “I want to hate you so much, right now.” She marched over to Marinette’s desk. Marinette leaped to her feet waiting for an assault.

But the attack never came. Instead, Chloé grabbed her and pulled her into a hug. Marinette was frozen in shock. But also, she was slightly disgusted that Chloé was touching her in the first place.

“Miss Bourgeois! Please take your seat.”

Chloé pushed Marinette away and stomped toward the front of the room. She turned and glared at both of them. “No. I’m mad at you. Both of you! In my house… you....”

“Chloé! You are disrupting class. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

“Fine!” Chloé yelled as she headed to the door. “This is ridiculous, utterly ridiculous!”

“Chloé!” Sabrina yelled as she got up to chase her friend, but the door slammed before she got there. There was an awkward silence as no one knew what to think of Chloé’s outburst. Marinette quietly took her seat and Adrien did the same.

“Is she on drugs?” Kim asked.

After that, Miss Bustier tried to get the class to focus on the lesson at hand, but no one was able to concentrate. Everyone was excited by Adrien’s return and the strangeness of Chloés outburst. In the end, Miss Bustier gave up and decided they could all benefit from some shared study time.

No one studied.

Marinette sat relaxed in her seat watching Adrien chat with Nino. There was a lightness, a new confidence in his speech and mannerisms. She doubted anyone else could tell, but Marinette had devoted years of her life to studying this boy. She closed her eyes with a happy sigh; she played with the ring on her finger absent-mindedly.

“Cool ring, girl.” Marinette opened her eyes to look at her friend. “But you really shouldn’t wear it on your left? People will get the wrong idea.”

“Oh, really?” Marinette replied innocently. She held up her hand in front of her so Alya could get a better view. Okay, maybe this was a little fun.

“Yeah. They might think you’re engaged or something crazy like that.” Alya lowered her voice. “You should be careful, you know how easily rumors can start.”

“Oh, I’m not engaged.” Marinette giggled. It was true, wasn’t it? “It just fits really nicely on this finger.”

“I think it looks good, there.” She looked up to see Adrien looking back at her, winking. Marinette couldn’t help blushing.

“Dude! You too?” Nino pointed at Adrien’s ring. “Is this some weird fashion trend I haven’t heard of?”

Marinette heard a loud knock at the door.

“Excuse me, Miss Bustier.” Mr. Damocles cleared his throat as he peeked in through the door. “Adrien’s father is out front and wishes to speak with him.”

A wave of dread washed over Marinette. She could feel her heart rate start to rise. She wished she could squeeze Adrien’s hand, to let him know that he wasn’t alone, anymore.

“As I understand it,” Miss Bustier replied with a certain glee in her voice, “Gabriel Agreste is no longer Adrien’s legal guardian.” She turned away from the door. “Adrien, what would you like to do?”

“Ms. Bustier, I’ve missed a lot of school. I’m eager to continue my studies uninterrupted.” Smugly, Adrien turned to the principal. “Mr. Damocles, if he wishes to wait until lunch, I will be available, then.”

An indescribable pride filled Marinette’s chest as Adrien spoke those words. This might be the first time in his life that Adrien’s father had to wait for him. She had to blink away happy tears from the corner of her eyes. The class was silent for a moment, then they exploded into cheers and claps. Oh, how Marinette wished she could see Adrien’s face. But she could tell by the way that he stretched and leaned back in his seat; she knew Adrien was enjoying this.

Mr. Damocles blinked for a moment. “Of course, Adrien. I’ll let him know.”

 

Chapter Text

All morning long, Adrien felt elated. Even the upcoming confrontation with his father couldn’t dampen his mood. He was part of the world again; he was with his friends again! All thanks to Marinette.

Throughout class, she sat behind him. But to Adrien, it was too far away. It felt odd, hiding their marriage from their friends. In truth, Adrien didn’t know quite how to act. He just followed her lead.

Soon, the last class before lunch ended, and Adrien could feel his heart rate rise. This was it! The moment Adrien had feared from the second he ran away. But now, strangely, he didn’t fear it. In fact, Adrien was looking forward to seeing his father again. He was almost giddy with anticipation.

Nino was at his side as he walked through the courtyard of the school, with Marinette following close behind. Not only Marinette, the whole class followed Adrien.

When Adrien arrived at the top of the steps, he saw his father’s car parked in front of the school. As Adrien walked down the stairs, he saw his bodyguard walk around and open the door for his father.

Gabriel Agreste stepped out of the car with a scowl on his face. Nathalie followed close behind him. His father stood tall and looked down at his son. Adrien felt Marinette’s hand slide into his. Nino’s hand grabbed the other. With his wife on one side and best friend on the other, Adrien smiled warmly at his father.

“Adrien, stop this at once,” Gabriel commanded. “We are going. Now.”

“Hello, father. I hope you are well,” Adrien replied politely. “And no, I won’t be going with you, today.”

“Adrien, you need to go home.”

“That house hasn’t been home for a long time.” Out of the corner of his eyes, Adrien saw his classmates and other students start to gather around. Lila was also there, she moved to stand beside Nathalie.

“I was hoping to keep your tantrum private, but you are leaving me no choice.” Gabriel moved to tower over his son. “Adrien, this so-called emancipation will not stand. You may think that you have outsmarted me, but you are wrong. I have contacted the courts regarding your ‘emancipation.’ I admit it was a clever scheme, but it will not hold. You are not an adult just because you found a fangirl to playact with you.”

“She’s not acting. Marinette loves me.” Adrien spoke confidently. Nino gasped; there were hushed whispers amongst his classmates.

“What would a sixteen-year-old girl know of love?” Gabriel eyed Marinette coldly.

“You’d be surprised, father.”

His father scoffed. “She is either infatuated with you or using you to further her own career. A move that will backfire, no doubt. She doesn’t love you.”

“I disagree.” Adrien stated firmly.

“Adrien,” Gabriel awkwardly cleared his throat, “I may not be the best at showing my emotions, but I do care for you. I have always done what is in your best interest. I have worked hard for all that we have. I have provided you with luxuries, advanced education, and opportunities for you to make a name for yourself. You have been gifted far more than your peers, but for that, I do ask for a degree of obedience.”

“That isn’t love, father. Yes, love is wanting the best for someone. But love is also wanting that person to live, and thrive, and be happy, even if it means letting them go.” Adrien squeezed Marinette’s hand, he looked over and met her eyes for the briefest of moments. “Even if it means breaking your own heart.”

Adrien turned back to Gabriel and took a deep breath. “You need to let me go, father.”

Gabriel just stared at him. Adrien could tell there was anger under his calm exterior. “I can see your emotions are getting the better of you, preventing you from seeing reason. Perhaps your friend will be more practical.” Gabriel looked to Marinette.

“Miss Dupain-Cheng, as a designer, you have shown true talent. But, if you continue with this charade, there will be repercussions. This is not how you want to debut into the fashion industry. I would hate to think a rash decision might jeopardize a promising career.”

Adrien recognized the veiled threat.

“I know, Mr. Agreste.” Marinette responded respectfully. “Even if I never work in fashion, I’ll never stop designing. I’ll create posters, album covers, and band T-shirts. And I’ll be happy doing it. True, I may never be part of a fashion house, but I’d gladly give that up for Adrien.“

“Father, you have the power to destroy Marinette's career before it starts. No one would deny that. That is a choice you have. Or,” Adrien looked directly into his fathers’ eyes, “you could choose to have me in your life.”

Adrien closed his eyes for a moment, trying to gather his thoughts. “I don’t hate you, father.” He looked to his father again. “I hate the choices you’ve made. I hate the sickness in your brain that makes you fear the world, the paranoia that has festered. You seek control, because you are consumed with fear.

“I know when mom disappeared, it tore a piece out of your soul. I know because I feel it too. It’s harder to live without her. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. There’s so much the world has to offer. There’s kindness, and friendship… I wish you could see the beauty in the world, but you have to be out in it. You can’t find it locked away in a mansion.”

A small, sad smile came across Adrien’s face. “You and I both loved mom. That is something we’ll always share. If you want to have dinner, and talk about her, I’d like that. Or if you want to play a duet on the piano, or watch a movie together. I’d like that, too.”

His heartfelt words brought no reaction from his father.

“I may even model for the Gabriel brand, again.” Adrien felt Marinette's body stiffen. “However, the terms will be discussed through an agent, with a contract approved by my attorney.”

Gabriel’s jaw twitched.

“And…” Adrien turned to stare at Lila, “it will never be with her.” 

“Me?” Lila brought her hand to her chest, surprised to be the sudden focus of attention. “Adrien, you can’t possibly mean that!”

“Get this through your brain, Lila.” Adrien spoke louder now, making sure all the students heard him.  “The only reason I ever modeled with you, was so you’d admit you lied about Marinette, so she could come back to school!” Man, it felt good to finally say it. “But you just couldn’t stop. I heard you start the ‘sugar daddy’ rumor, I was in the room when you claimed Marinette had morning sickness. You told her friends she ‘went off the deep end’ when I rejected her. That never happened! It was all your web of lies!”

Lila shifted around uncomfortably.

“Lila,” Adrien spoke clearly, enunciating every word. “You are a vile, cruel, self-serving cancer!”

“Please, Adrien,” Lila stepped forward, reaching for him. “You don’t mean that.”

“And you will never touch me again!” Adrien spat the words.

Lila recoiled as if he had struck her. Her eyes darted around, trying to garner sympathy from the onlookers. Adrien looked over to his classmates. He couldn’t help but feel a twinge of satisfaction as they looked at her with faces of betrayal. When Lila realized no one was at her side, she dropped her hurt expression and stormed off with a glare.

For a minute, no one spoke. Then, Adrien heard murmurs and whispers from all around. Gabriel squirmed, obviously uncomfortable that he lost control of the situation.

“This isn’t over, yet, Adrien.” His words came through gritted teeth.

“I hope not, father,” Adrien spoke earnestly. “I do honestly hope to have you in my life. But let me make myself clear. If you go after Marinette, if you attack…”  Adrien paused, then continued forcefully, “if you attack my wife, or seek to invalidate my marriage, this will be the last time we speak.”

His father’s eyes grew wide, but he didn’t say anything.

“And any further communication can be handled through my attorney.”

Adrien felt Nino’s hand drop, he expected it was from shock. Nino wasn’t the only one. Adrien could hear gasps from all around. Gabriel quickly turned and climbed into the car, promptly followed by Nathalie. Adrien felt Marinette tug at his hand. He let her lead him away from the school.

Adrien followed Marinette across the street. Once they entered the side door of the bakery, and entered the stairwell, Marinette pulled him into an embrace. “Oh Adrien, you were amazing. I’m so proud of you!”

He squeezed her back tightly, rocking her in his arms. He did it! Adrien stood up to his father. He told off Lila!

Suddenly, Marinette pushed him away and pounded on his chest with her fists. “You!” She accused him angrily, there were tears in her eyes.

“What was that for?”

“The photoshoots! The photoshoots with Lila! You… you did...” Marinette’s voice cracked, and when she spoke, it was barely a whisper. “You did that for me?” 

Adrien nodded.

“No!” Marinette sobbed, tears now running down her face. “That’s too much! Adrien, that’s too much to do for a friend.”

“Yes. Yes it is,” he agreed softly. Adrien tenderly reached up to brush a tear away from her cheek. “You’re not just a friend, though. Maybe you haven’t been for a long time.”

Roughly, Marinette grabbed his neck and crashed her mouth against his. By kissing him like this, she was violating her own rules, but Adrien wasn’t going to complain. He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her against him.

Marinette’s kisses were deep and needy. Adrien responded eagerly. He was on an emotional high after sending his father on his way. Adrien felt he could take on the world, but he was more than happy to settle for making out with his wife.

Adrien walked forward and pinned her against the wall, wanting to feel more of her against his body. Marinette sighed into his mouth and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. 

They never saw their friends in the doorway.

“What the hell, guys?!?” Alya shouted.

Adrien pulled himself away from Marinette’s lips. With a groan, he turned to face a wide-eyed Alya and Nino. He felt Marinette start to giggle in his arms.

“Umm... surprise!” she said as laughter started to overtake her body.

Adrien didn’t know if it was the release of tension, or the sheer awkwardness of the situation, but he soon found himself laughing alongside Marinette. Soon, Alya and Nino looked far more annoyed than shocked.

Finally, Adrien was able to calm the chuckles. He did his best to keep a straight face as he turned to his friends. Marinette covered her face in her hands; giggles continued to bubble out of her throat.

“Dude, is it true?” Nino asked. “Are you and Marinette married?”

“We had the civil ceremony yesterday.” Adrien let another giggle start to rise. “By Chloé’s dad.” Before he knew it, he was laughing again. Marinette grabbed his arm, trying to steady herself.

“Why aren’t you two taking this seriously?!” Oh man, Alya looked mad. “Wait, this- THIS is why Chloé was so pissed off at you two?”

Adrien nodded, not trusting himself not to laugh again.

“And… I don’t understand. How did you hear Lila that day in Marinette’s room? I was there, that room is not very big.”

“He was hiding.” Marinette struggled to talk between giggles. She met Adrien’s eyes for a moment. “In my bed.” Laughter exploded from her chest, again.

“Girl!” Alya crossed her arms. “You’ve been keeping some pretty big secrets. Wait! Was it Adrien sneaking out of your room that night?”

The question seemed to cure Marinette of her giggles. Adrien’s face dropped, as well. Hesitantly, she looked over to Adrien. He reached out and squeezed her hand.

“You can tell her,” Adrien spoke gently.

Marinette bit her lip, obviously conflicted. She looked back and forth from Alya to Nino to Adrien again. He sighed, Marinette wasn’t going to say anything. It was up to Adrien to confess. They ended up speaking at the same time.

“It was me.”
“It was Chat Noir.”

“Holy shit!” Alya’s eyes were as wide as saucers. “Adrien’s Chat Noir!”

“No!” Marinette and Adrien cried in unison.

Marinette turned to glare at him. “Why did you want me to tell her?”

“I thought you would say it was me.” Adrien held up his hands defensively. “Your parents think it was me… I forgot!”

“You forgot?!” Marinette’s hands were on her hips. “How could you forget I didn't make out with you that night.”

Adrien flashed her his brightest smile, and scratched his neck nervously. 

“Wait! Marinette, hang on a minute!” The wheels in Alya’s head were turning. “You made out with Chat Noir, now you’re married to Adrien?”

“I don’t mind sharing.” Adrien felt a sudden elbow in his ribs.

“Whoa… you guys even argue like you’re married.” Nino raised an eyebrow. “So, how married are you? You stayed in Chloé’s hotel last night.”

Adrien felt his face become hot. He looked over to see Marinette was red, as well.

“Ha!” Nino clapped and playfully punched Adrien’s arm. “My boy’s become a man!”

“Marinette! This is crazy!” Alya protested. “It doesn’t make sense!”

“I know, I know.” Marinette cleared her throat and took a deep breath. “Would you two like to stay for lunch? Umm... there’s a lot to explain.”

Chapter Text

“Would you two like to stay for lunch?” Marinette offered. “Umm... there’s a lot to explain.”

“That’s an understatement,” Alya responded with a confused look in her eyes.  “But, yes. We’d love to stay for lunch.”

Marinette excused herself from her friends and headed toward the main door of the bakery. Once she was out of sight from Adrien, her mind started reeling. The photoshoots! The photoshoots Adrien hated; he had done those for her. Part of her was just so angry! She never asked him to do that. She could have handled Lila on her own.

Marinette kicked the floor with her shoe and hung her head. No, I couldn’t handle Lila on my own. She had been expelled with no way to prove her innocence. So, Adrien sacrificed himself. He threw himself in front of the enemy, protecting her from Lila’s attack. Marinette shuddered. It wasn’t the first time a boy used himself as a human shield for her. But Adrien wasn’t Chat Noir! He shouldn’t be defending her in her battles, not when he didn’t have anyone to help him with his own.  

Marinette swallowed. Okay, she would have a proper freakout about this, later. Right now, she needed to think about explaining everything to Alya. Her friend was inquisitive, more so than Adrien. Oh, God! She cringed. And now Alya knew about Chat Noir!

Sabine smiled as Marinette entered the bakery. “How was Adrien’s first day back?” she asked sweetly.

“Well…” Marinette hesitated. “We just spoke to his father. He’s mad, but at least he didn’t try to take Adrien. Though... now the whole class knows. I told Alya and Nino that they can stay for lunch.” She took a deep breath and winced. “Alya wants an explanation.”

“I expect she would.” Sabine took a baguette from the display case and put it into a paper bag. She walked over and handed it to her daughter. “For your friends. You’re also welcome to whatever you find in the fridge.”

Marinette exhaled. As much as she hated hiding things from Alya, she dreaded the upcoming conversation. “What should I tell her, mom? It’s still so new… I’m still learning more about Adrien. I’m just….” her throat tightened as she struggled with the words. “I’m just so confused.”

Sabine hugged her daughter gently.  “Just be honest; you married the boy you loved.”

“But it’s so much more complicated than that.”

“I know. It always is.” Sabine gently rubbed her back. “It was complicated for your father and I, too.”

Marinette heard the door open as some customers entered the shop. She bid her mom a quick goodbye before rejoining her friends in the stairwell. When Adrien saw her, he smiled and held out his hand.

She reached for it without thinking. Then paused when she saw Alya raise an eyebrow. Marinette was suddenly aware that everyone was staring at her and Adrien’s hand. She heard Adrien chuckle as he stepped forward and brought her hand to his lips. Wha… what does he think he’s doing? Marinette could feel herself turning bright red as Adrien gently kissed her knuckles. She shyly turned away from her friends, trying to hide her face behind the baguette.

“Oh, come on!” Alya complained, throwing her hands out. “You can’t pretend you guys weren’t just making out. Now, Marinette is getting all shy from a hand kiss?”

Still holding Adrien’s hand, Marinette walked past her friends and started climbing the stairs to the apartment. She only let go of his hand to unlock the door. Once she and her friends were inside, she set down the baguette on the table and headed to the fridge.

“Uh-uh, girl. Don’t walk away, spill!” Alya demanded, crossing her arms.

“Don’t you want lunch?” Marinette offered weakly.

Alya grabbed the baguette and ripped off a piece. “This is fine. Now talk.”

Marinette bit her lip and looked over to Adrien. He had a lighthearted smile on his face as he bounced on his heels. Wait… Why am I the one having to explain this?

“Uh… Babe?” Nino began. “I’m dying for details too, but I think you have something to say to Marinette.”

“Oh, yeah.” Alya exhaled and looked at her hands. “I’m still trying to wrap my head around the whole Lila thing. But it seems pretty obvious now.” Alya took a deep breath and met Marinette’s eyes. “I’m sorry I doubted you about Lila. I just… really wanted to believe her. It was so cool to have a friend with such amazing stories and great connections.”

Marinette nodded. “She was good at telling people what they wanted to hear. And… it’s always easier to believe a lie than an uncomfortable truth.” Marinette looked over to Adrien as she recalled her years of admiration for Gabriel. “God knows I’m guilty of that, too.”

“Soo…” Alya asked hesitantly, “are we good now?”

“Yeah.” Marinette smiled. “We’re good.”

Alya returned her smile with a relieved one, but it quickly stretched into pleading. “Now, PLEASE, tell me how in the hell you two ended up getting married!”

“And, Dude, where have you been?!” Nino prodded Adrien. “No more dodging the question. Like, I let it slide earlier because I was happy to see you, again. But you better not have been hiding here the whole time!”

“I wasn’t,” Adrien shrugged, then smiled. “I was out exploring Paris. Then Ladybug found me, roughed me up, and brought me here.”

Marinette choked on air. “Hey! That’s not what happened!”

“Whoa! Wait.” Alya's eyes were wide. “You got into a fight with Ladybug?”

“She was trying to get me to go home. I disagreed.” Adrien replied smugly before his face fell. “Wait. I thought you guys told her to look for me?”

Marinette really didn’t like where the conversation was heading.

Nino and Alya looked to each other, confused. “Dude, we didn’t know you were gone,” Nino admitted. “I thought you were locked up in your dad’s basement.”

Marinette giggled nervously, “Are you sure you don’t want lunch? There are some meats and cheeses…”

“Marinette?” Alya was staring at her now. “Why did Ladybug bring Adrien here? ...to you?”

Marinette swallowed hard, her mouth suddenly dry. She looked over to Adrien, he was eyeing her curiously. “I, umm…” She winced and closed her eyes. “After Adrien left school, I asked her to look for him. I was worried.”

“Girl, we were all worried! But it’s not like we can pick up a phone and call a superhero. And don’t think I’ve forgotten that you’re on kissing terms with Chat Noir.”

“They stop by my balcony, sometimes.” Marinette shrugged. “I’m not supposed to say anything. Please don’t put anything on the Ladyblog.” She looked at her friend with deliberately sad, scared eyes. “It could endanger my family.” Okay, maybe it was a bit over the top, but Marinette  really needed Alya to drop it.

“Of course, I won’t.” Alya reached over and squeezed her hand. “I can keep a secret. So, Ladybug beat up Adrien and brought him here.”

“She didn’t beat him up.” Marinette glared at Adrien for a moment. “Yes, he was unconscious, but that was because he was cold and sick.”

Adrien’s shoulders fell as he looked to the ground. Oh, shit! A sudden realization hit Marinette. Adrien didn’t want them to know... how he was living, or that he was homeless. Marinette winced at her words. She walked over to him and took his hand. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.

He squeezed her hand back and smiled softly. “It’s okay.” Adrien’s beautiful green eyes met hers.  Marinette felt an overwhelming desire to take him into her arms. As if he could hear her thoughts, Adrien wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into an embrace. Marinette hesitated as she felt her body stiffen. Alya and Nino were right there! Watching! She nervously leaned against his chest as she shyly wrapped her arms around his waist.

Nino cleared his throat. “Um… dudes? We’re, like, still here.”

“Okay, so Ladybug brought Adrien here, unconscious.” Alya continued, the reporter forever eager for the story. “That… that doesn’t explain this!” She gestured to Adrien and Marinette.

Marinette backed away and looked up to Adrien.  She raised her eyebrows expectedly. He should tell them.

Adrien smiled back at her before he turned towards his friends. “After Ladybug brought me here, Marinette took care of me. It was her idea to meet with an attorney, to see if I could become emancipated. She told us the easiest way... was to get married.”

“And you just went with it?!” Alya’s arms flew up. “Adrien, you can’t just use Marinette like that!”

“He’s not using me, Alya.” It warmed her heart to see her friend defend her like that. “I had to talk him into it.” Marinette smiled as she looked over to Adrien. “I wanted to marry him.”

Alya pulled her aside and led her across the room. “Excuse us a minute,” she called to the boys.  “Does he know?” Alya whispered in her ear.

Marinette giggled softly. “About my old crush?” She spoke loud enough for the boys to hear. “Yes, he knows.”

Alya looked back at her with concerned eyes. “Girl, I hope you know what you’re doing. I really don’t want to see you hurt.”

“The last thing I want is for Marinette to get hurt,” Adrien spoke up. His voice had an intensity that made Marinette tingle. 

“Babe, I know you want to protect your friend,” Nino told her gently, “but remember: my bro has been doing that for a while now. With Lila.” 

Marinette winced. Later, remember? Freak out later.

“Arg! Yes. I know. Sorry.” Alya sighed, “I can’t believe all this was going on and I had no idea.” Her shoulders slumped. “Not much of a reporter, huh?”

After a few silent moments, Alya slapped her cheeks and continued. “Okay, so the attorney suggested you get married. What happened next?”

Adrien walked over to Marinette and slid an arm around her waist. He gazed at her with those beautiful green eyes of his. “I proposed at the Trocadéro.” 

Marinette felt herself flush at his words as her stomach filled with butterflies. Calm down, girl. Calm down. She rocked up on her toes and whispered into Adrien’s ear. “You’re making it out to be far more romantic than it was.” She looked into his eyes and smirked. “You were wearing a skirt.”

Adrien grinned and placed his forehead against hers. “I looked lovely, your dad even said so.”

Marinette giggled. “Yeah, you did.”

Alya slapped her hands together loudly. “Come on, guys, focus! Last I checked, two sixteen-year-olds can’t get married. What gives?”

Marinette turned toward Alya but made no attempt to remove Adrien’s arm from her waist. “Actually, minors can get married with parental consent. Or consent from a public authority figure, like a judge. Or… a mayor.

“Whoa! So that’s what you guys did, with Mayor Bourgeois?” Nino laughed. “No wonder Chloé was pissed.”

“The mayor gave consent for me,” Adrien beamed proudly, “but Marinette’s parents let me marry her.”

Alya squealed and jumped up and down excitedly. “Oh my god! Did you ask Mr. Dupain for Marinette’s hand in marriage?”

Marinette awkwardly chuckled as she side-eyed Adrien. He was carefully selecting truths to paint a much different narrative than what really happened. It was… clever, actually, in this case. But also a bit disconcerting. He was good at this. Marinette gulped as a sobering thought dawned on her. Adrien has been doing this for a long time.

“We asked them together.” Marinette leaned against his shoulder, playing along, but also enjoying the warmth of his body.  Adrien’s fingers gently caressed her side in response. “Mom gave me my grandmother’s ring.”

“Oh wow!” Alya grinned as she clasped her hands together. “That is the sweetest thing ever! Nino… look how adorable they are!”

“Yeah, babe, I know…”

“It’s just… wow! I can’t believe it happened! And, like, so fast and seeing you guys really together… it's like… total OMG. Other than Ladybug and Chat Noir, you guys were totally my OTP! The girls in our class are going to totally flip! They’ve been rooting for you guys for years!”

“Huh... Why?” Adrien asked, confused.

“Marinette?” Alya spoke out of the corner of her mouth. “You said he knew?

Oh man, do things ever stop being awkward?  “Um…” Marinette winced, “all the girls knew about my crush… on you.”

“And some of the guys, too.” Nino added, grinning broadly.

“Shhh… Nino!” Alya scolded, then was thoughtful for a moment. “This actually works out really well, just in case Adrien’s dad throws a fit.”

Marinette’s face fell. Oh yeah, Adrien’s father. The lighthearted atmosphere between the friends disappeared almost instantly.

“I hate to bring it up,” Nino spoke hesitantly, “but, dude, your dad looked pissed. Is there anything he could do? Like, to challenge your marriage? Can you become unemancipated?”

Oh. Marinette bit her lip. She never really thought about that. Marinette felt Adrien shrug. “I dunno.” He drifted off in thought for a moment. “I guess I can ask my attorney.”

“Just a suggestion, guys...” Alya began, “you might wanna keep the ‘an attorney told us to get married thing’ to yourselves. I mean, I don’t know how Adrien’s dad is going to respond, but saying you got married for love seems a lot safer.”

Marinette blushed at the word love. True, her wild crush on Adrien was never a secret from Alya, but hearing her feelings talked about in the open was a bit... embarrassing.  

“And… ooh!” Alya started jumping up and down excitedly. “Let’s have everyone think Adrien is your mystery man, and that you guys have a long history of clandestine meetups. Hmm… it would also be a good idea to keep up with the PDA.” Alya eyed their arms, still wrapped around each other. “But, between this, and you guys smooching in the hallway, I’d say you’re off to a good start. Keep it up! Don’t give anyone reason to doubt your marriage. I’ll help the best I can.” Alya gave an exaggerated wink.

Marinette gulped at her friend's enthusiasm. She had no idea what type of help her friend was offering, and at this point, she was too afraid to ask.

After a few moments of silence, Marinette broke away from Adrien’s arms. “I’ll go find some lunch.” She said as she turned toward the kitchen.

“Umm….” As she walked, she heard Adrien ask, “Do you know if any other classes were outside with us, just now?”

“Mainly our class, I think,” Alya answered. “But I’m sure the whole school knows by now. All of Paris will know in an hour. Gossip this juicy will spread fast. Why?”

“Babe, he’s thinking about Kagami.”

Marinette’s heart dropped. Of course, he was going to be thinking about Kagami! They were close, almost dating.  And… Kagami was their friend. Marinette gulped. At this moment, Kagami was probably learning about their marriage through social media. While Marinette trusted their class to keep Adrien’s private affairs on the internet, the other students wouldn’t hesitate. They should have handled it better. Much better.

“Should we give her a text?” Marinette glanced over to Adrien. “Somehow, it doesn't seem enough.”

“I’ll um… I’ll try to talk to her as soon as I can,” Adrien said as he scratched the back of his neck.

___

Adrien thoroughly enjoyed his lunch with his friends. Their conversations soon fell into a familiar rhythm as Nino and Alya filled him in on the two weeks he missed. Nino had scored a gig as a DJ for some holiday parties.  December was a busy month for restaurants, and Alya had to watch her sisters, more often. It was a normal, lighthearted conversation between friends, something Adrien had really missed while he was away. Though, when the topic drifted back to Adrien’s whereabouts, Marinette would swoop in and lead the discussion away. He never asked her to do that, but somehow Marinette knew. She was amazing like that.

The four headed back to school long before lunch was over. Adrien half expected to see Nathalie or his bodyguard waiting outside. But the front of the school was deserted, except for a short-haired brunette.

Kagami was sitting at the bottom of the steps, staring at her phone. Adrien looked down to his hand that was firmly holding Marinette’s. Oh, man, was there any way to explain this without hurting her? Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Nino and Alya turn to walk up the steps, leaving Marinette and him alone as they walked to Kagami. Should he let go of Marinette’s hand?  How is one supposed to act in this situation? He knew Kagami liked him. She had been patiently waiting for him for a long while. He told her he wasn’t ready to date. Adrien cringed. Now, the poor girl just found out he was married.

Kagami stood up as the couple approached. Adrien looked to her eyes to see if she was upset, but her expression was neutral. If she was upset, she hid it well.

“Congratulations, Adrien. Marinette.” She spoke formally. Kagami walked forward to stiffly kiss the air at Marinette’s cheeks. Then she stood on her toes to kiss Adrien’s. It was an awkward formality. Adrien knew his friend was trying hard to keep up with the French custom, but it didn’t feel natural coming from his Japanese friend.

After Kagami stepped back, there was a heavy tension in the air. Adrien opened his mouth to speak, but the words refused to form. Finally, Marinette was able to answer back.

“Um… thank you,” she replied shyly. Marinette shifted from foot to foot while Adrien and Kagami stood in silence. “You know what?” she said after a minute. “I’ll go catch up with the girls, and let the two of you talk.”

Adrien felt her squeeze his hand before she left. Once Marinette was out of sight, Kagami finally spoke, but she didn’t meet his eyes.

“I was really worried about you.” 

Adrien waited for her to continue. When she didn’t, he simply responded, “I’m sorry.”

Several moments passed before Kagami spoke again.

“You’re married,” she stated.

“Yeah.” Adrien winced at his stunted answer. Come on! Make words!

“I wish you would have come to me, but I understand. From what I've been researching, emancipation is complicated.” Kagami held up her phone showing a government webpage. “You had limited options. It probably wouldn’t have worked with a foreign national, anyway.

Adrien couldn’t think of a response. Kagami was being quite pragmatic; but then again, she was always very level-headed.

“I’m not hurt that you got married to Marinette. I understand. You did what you had to do.” Kagami straightened her posture. “I’ve waited this long, I can wait two more years.”

Adrien stared back at her confused. It took him a moment to realize what she was implying. “No.” Adrien shook his head. “Don’t wait for me.”

“I don’t mind,” she smiled, looking up at him with kind eyes. “You’re worth waiting for.”

Adrien took a deep breath, carefully selecting his words. “You’re a very good friend to me, Kagami. There’s no denying we have a bond... and I truly treasure it. We both understand what it’s like to live under an immense amount of pressure. We can relate and empathize with each other in ways no one else can.” Adrien paused, he hated to hurt her, but these words needed to be said. “But for now, and in years to come, I… I can only be your friend….”

“But when you’re eighteen, you won’t need to be married anymore. You can divorce….”

“I don’t want to,” Adrien firmly interrupted.

Kagami looked at him with confused eyes. “I don’t understand, I thought you got married to get away from your father.”

Adrien exhaled. “I know people are going to think that. But… it’s not like that.”

Kagami blinked several times as if to process the new information. “You… you and Marinette...?”

Adrien nodded.  Kagami's eyes fell to the ground. Adrien could see tears fill her usually stoic eyes. “The last thing I wanted to do was hurt you,” he said softly. “I’m sorry.”

“No... I’m sorry. I knew how Marinette felt about you,” Kagami admitted, glancing to the side. “I guess... I guess part of me hoped you would never find out.”

“Well,” Adrien chuckled dryly, trying to lighten the mood. “I think I might have been the last person to know.”

A group of students was approaching, so Adrien waited for them to pass before he spoke again.

“Hey?” Adrien asked, wanting Kagami to look at him. “Will we be okay?”

“I’d like to think…” her voice trembled as she looked to the clouds, “that I had a piece of your heart, for a little while. I will always treasure that.”

Adrien looked at her thoughtfully and smiled. “You’ll always have a place in my heart, Kagami.” He held his arms open for her, hoping she might come to him. Kagami wavered for a moment, before walking forward into his arms. Adrien squeezed her tightly.

“That girl loves you. She can hesitate, sometimes; but it’s because she doubts herself.” Kagami pulled back and looked at him. “Never doubt that she loves you.”

“Thank you,” Adrien whispered, “for understanding.”

“So…” Kagami took a deep breath. “When will I see you back at fencing? You’re the only partner to give me a challenge.”

“After I pay my attorney,” Adrien grinned, “a new saber is the first thing I’ll buy.”

___

Marinette caught up with Alya outside of Ms. Mendeleiev’s classroom. When Marinette walked into the room, the girls in the class bombarded her with hugs and cheek kisses. Regardless of the circumstances, it warmed Marinette’s heart to see her friends so happy for her. Even Sabrina congratulated her. Though Chloé had yet to return to class, Marinette took it as a good sign that Adrien’s childhood friend seemed to endorse their marriage. But as expected, Lila was still absent.

“It was the most romantic thing ever!” Rose clapped her hands together. “When Adrien said, ‘If you attack my wife, it will be the last time we speak!’ I thought I would faint!”

“That was badass!” added Juleka.

“So, what’s next?” asked Mylene. “Are you going to have a reception or a big church wedding?”

“Marinette, I know you would design the most incredible gown.”

“Are you going to get your own place?”

“Is Adrien going to model for you?”

“Are you going to change your last name to Agreste?”

“Gals, please. You’re going to overwhelm her.” Alya wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “Be easy on Marinette, you know she didn’t sleep much, last night.”

Marinette glared at her friend as the girls squealed and clapped. For someone who always tried to have a plan, she was at a loss of what to do, next. What was she supposed to say? Of course, her friends were going to be curious. She just needed more time, to process, to come up with a strategy.

“What was it like to finally be with the boy you’ve loved for so long?”

“I bet he’s a good kisser.”

“He sure looked like one.” Alya grinned, proud to be the bearer of such allusive information. “You should have seen them at Marinette's after Adrien told his dad off. They were being quite passionate in a certain stairwell.”

“I want to see!”

“Me too!”

“And...” Alya continued with a wink, “no hickies this time.”

Oh, man! Marinette winced. THIS is what Alya meant by helping.

“That was Adrien!”

“Why did you keep it a secret?”

“Come on. You can guess why. The boy probably wasn’t allowed to date outside of pre-screened candidates.”

“It’s so romantic! You eloped so you could be together!”

Or… so Adrien wouldn’t die on the streets trying to escape his scumbag father, Marinette mused silently.

The next few minutes were a whirlwind of questions for which Marinette didn’t have answers. Luckily, the girls kept talking over each other, so Marinette’s lack of response went unnoticed. Alya proved quite the retroactive wingman. By the time Adrien arrived to class, they were all convinced that their marriage was the logical end-product of Adrien and Marinette’s secret love affair.

“Hey, aren’t you going to greet your wife?” Alix called out as Adrien entered the classroom.

Adrien raised an eyebrow. “Greet my wife?”

Marinette shuffled nervously toward him. “Umm… they want to see you kiss me.” She muttered under her breath.

“Oh?” Adrien’s face broke into a lopsided smile as he reached for her waist and pulled her close. Adrien bent his face down to hers, until their noses almost touched. “Do they now?” He teased softy.

Marinette’s face instantly grew hot and her heart started pounding. She could hear the girls shuffling around for a better view. Oh god, oh god! Her nerves were getting the better of her. This was a bad idea, a very bad idea.

She grabbed Adrien’s hoodie and buried her face in the fabric. Marinette could feel Adrien’s body chuckle at her sudden shyness. His warm arms wrapped around her and pulled her in close.

“You weren’t so timid, last night,” he told her softly, yet strangely loud enough for the girls to hear. Marinette resisted a sudden desire to kick his shins. She pulled away to give Adrien a dirty look, but he just looked so proud of himself that Marinette couldn’t help smiling.

After a moment, Adrien leaned over and whispered in her ear. “Should I kiss you?”

Shivers ran down Marinette’s body as his lips grazed her earlobe. It should be illegal to sound so damn sexy. God! She wanted to close her eyes, lean her head back, and savor the way Adrien could make her body feel. Marinette bit her lip in frustration as she tried to shake the thoughts from her mind. Not now, girl! She gave Adrien a tiny nod as his eyes met hers.

She dropped her eyelids as Adrien cupped her face; the girls were squealing in excitement. Marinette exhaled, waiting to feel his lips on hers, her senses tingling with anticipation.

“Mwah!” Adrien said loudly as he placed an exaggerated kiss on her cheek. Marinette heard a chorus of disappointed moans from the room. She opened her eyes slowly. Adrien was staring back at her with the cockiest smile she had ever seen. Like, seriously! He could give Chat a run for his money with a cheeky grin like that. Marinette’s eyes narrowed. He was taunting her… and her rules.

Swallowing her pride, Marinette held his gaze and pleaded silently with his eyes. Please, kiss me, her lips mouthed the words silently. Adrien’s face fell, his beautiful green eyes now looked at her with a tender sadness.

She felt his thumb gently caress her jaw as he studied her face. Why was her heart beating so fast? She should be used to his kisses by now. And… they’d done more, a lot more. But there was something about kissing in front of her friends. It made their marriage seem... real. Marinette gulped, is this what it would be like if they had a wedding in front of family and friends? She tried to shake away the image of Adrien waiting for her at the end of an aisle. God! He would look so good in a sleek black suit.

She felt his breath on her face as he exhaled. Then finally, Marinette felt his soft, warm mouth on her own.

Closing her eyes, she melted into Adrien’s lips. The kiss was tender, unlike the passionate ones they shared in the stairwell. Adrien’s lips gently moved against her own, but he made no attempt to deepen the kiss.

Marinette wanted it to last, not sure when she could justify kissing him again. But as soon as she heard the cheers from her classmates, giggles overtook her body. Once again, she buried her face in Adrien’s hoodie.

Her giggles ended abruptly when the ground started to shake unnaturally, soon followed by the wails of the Akuma sirens.  As much as Marinette wanted a reason to escape her friends, she cursed the timing. Not now! Her life was too crazy at the moment. She didn’t have time for this!

She pulled away and looked up at Adrien. Marinette was surprised to see the panic in his eyes. They both spoke at once.

“I have to go!

 

Chapter Text

“I have to go!” Adrien turned to run out of the room. His shoulders crashed into Marinette’s as they squeezed through the doorway at the same time. Adrien pulled ahead of her and started sprinting down the corridor.

“Wait! Where are you going?” Marinette cried as she ran after him.

“ADRIEN!!” An inhuman cry echoed through the courtyard. The ground shook as the Akuma’s massive footsteps grew closer.

“The Akuma,” Adrien quickly stated. “It’s Lila.”

“What?! How did you know that?”

“Hawkmoth loves using her. Don’t worry, go hide with the others. I can lead her away!”

“WEB OF LIES? WEB OF LIES? COME TRY TO SEE MY WEB NOW!!”

“No!” Marinette grabbed his arm and tried to pull him back to the classroom. “You need to hide somewhere safe!”

Adrien easily broke free of her grasp. “I’ll be fine. Go back to the classroom and wait there.”

“COME OUT AND PLAY WITH THE TARANTOLA!! BRING YOUR LITTLE BUG WITH YOU.”

“Get back!” Marinette tried to grab at his hands again, but he held them out of her reach. “You can’t face an Akuma by yourself!”

“I’m not going to fight her, but I can buy time.”

“No!” Marinette grabbed him by the waist and tried to lift him. His shoes left the ground for the briefest of moments before he twisted out of her arms. Adrien grimaced as he turned away from her. This was becoming a problem.

Suddenly, he felt a weight on his back. Marinette’s arms wrapped around his neck, closely followed by her legs around his hips. He didn’t like playing dirty, but she was leaving him no choice. He reached his hands under her legs and tickled the fleshy part of her thighs. Marinette squirmed and rolled off his back.

“COME OUT, ADRIEN!”

Adrien groaned. He really didn’t like using force, but she left him little choice. Ladybug needed him right now, she could be waiting for him! Bending his shoulders down, Adrien rushed toward Marinette, grabbing her legs. When he stood up, she was face down, slung over his shoulder.

As quickly as he could, he marched an angry Marinette back to Ms. Mendeleiev’s classroom. Adrien paled as he saw his classmates’ mortified faces staring at them through the courtyard windows. He didn’t have long to feel embarrassment before he felt Marinette’s fingers attack his sides. Unfortunately for her, Adrien was still quite able to walk despite his ribs being tickled. Although slower than he would have liked, Adrien was able to stagger back to the classroom, his uncooperative wife wiggling on his shoulder the entire time.

“ADRIEN!” The unnatural shrill of Lila’s voice was even louder now.

Ivan opened the door to the classroom. Adrien swung Marinette off his shoulders and pushed her inside. Her face was bright red and she furiously glared back at him. Adrien placed a quick kiss on her cheek. “Stay safe.” 

After pulling the door closed behind him, Adrien ran back into the courtyard and yelled toward the sound of the voice. “I’m here! Lila! Errr... Tarantola! But you’re going to have to come get me!” He waited until he saw her giant arachnid form crawl up on the rooftop. Once he was certain she saw him, he turned and ran into the locker room to transform. Tarantola would spend her time tearing the lockers apart, never suspecting Chat Noir escaped through the windows.

__

Oh man, this is bad! This is very, very bad. Marinette thought as she stared at Ivan and Kim guarding the classroom door. She stood amongst the girls as they chatted about how brave and protective Adrien was of his wife. Marinette kept her mouth shut. Inwardly, she was seething with annoyance. He had no right bringing her back here! True, she was trying to do the exact same thing. But she was a superhero, after all!

Ugh! Right now she needed to think of how to escape the classroom. Her eyes drifted over to the exterior windows. It was still a considerable drop to the street, and she didn’t have the privacy to transform. Marinette winced. Jumping from this height was going to hurt, but what other option did she have?

“Excuse me, girls,” Marinette said as she backed away from her friends. “I need to, umm…”  Suddenly the ground shook as Tarantola’s huge form jumped down into the courtyard. All the students ran to the interior windows for a better view. Alya had her phone in her hand to capture a video of the Akuma. No one was paying any attention to Marinette. This was her chance!

Careful not to draw attention, Marinette slowly walked across the classroom to the exterior windows. If her classmates tried to stop her, she would have several seconds headstart. When she was sure no one was looking, Marinette pushed open the window and climbed out

Once outside, she carefully slid her body down the outside wall, hanging on by the windowsill. Oh, man! It was still a bit of a drop. Marinette took a few deep breaths to brace herself for the impact.

“Marinette! What the hell are you doing?!” That was Alya’s voice calling out.

Here goes! Marinette thought as she let go of the sill and tumbled to the ground. She landed hard, immediately falling to her side.

“First Adrien, now you!” Alya shouted in annoyance. “Come back, you guys are not superheroes!”

“I can’t let her get him!” Marinette called back as she scurried away from the window, heading toward the nearest alley. One of her ankles shot sharp pain with every step, but Marinette ignored it. Once transformed, the pain would be far more manageable.

The sight on the street made Marinette pause. All around, people and cars seem to be suspended in thin air. The people seemed to be struggling against invisible restraints. Well, almost… Marinette squinted, if the light hit just right, she could make out the thin spider silk. Urgh! Might as well be invisible.

She eyed her path to the alley. She would need to move extra cautiously to avoid any webs. By the sounds of it, Tarantola was still in the courtyard of the school. The ground shook again as Tarantola appeared to be stomping her eight giant feet in anger. Hopefully, that was a good sign, a sign that she had not found Adrien yet.

Once in the alley, Marinette quickly transformed. With the help of her yoyo, she made it back to her balcony in no time.  As she opened her hatch, she saw Tarantola’s monstrous form jump to the roof of the school. Ladybug’s heart raced faster as she took in the sheer size of the Akuma. Not only the size, but the speed, too. Tarantola was fast.

Ladybug jumped into her room and down from her bed. She threw open the lid to her chest and grabbed the Miracle Box.  To the normal eye, it was a plain sewing box. But when the right spots were pressed, it revealed its secret compartments.

The sound of walls cracking startled Ladybug. Her room shook as Ladybug realized that Tarantola was now gripping the side of the building.  Leaving by the roof exit was impossible, now. Ladybug bit her lip as she grabbed a few extra Miraculous. She hurriedly put them in her yoyo before she texted Chat to meet her in the sewer under the school.

___

Once in the sewer, Ladybug spotted Chat almost immediately. He sprinted to meet her, then his eyes fell to the sacks on her shoulder.  “What’s with the bags?

“Oh, I borrowed some flour from the bakery.” And I won’t mention the fact that I kinda punched a huge hole in the bakery floor to get to the sewer. Luckily, her parents had endured enough Akuma attacks to know the damage was temporary. 

“So, are we calling in reinforcements, today?” Chat asked hopefully.

“Can’t this time.” Most of her reinforcements were trapped inside the same classroom. “It’ll be just us. Okay, we are facing a giant spider-”

“Tarantula, I think.”

“Fine, giant tarantula with invisible webs that cause hallucinations when touched.”

“But why?” Chat grabbed his chin thoughtfully. “Tarantulas don’t use webs to hunt.”

“Um… okay. Not sure that’s helpful. How do you know this?”

“What can I say,” Chat smiled as he shrugged playfully. “I like to know my bugs.”

Ladybug rolled her eyes, but she didn’t hide her smile. It was good to see Chat joke again. He seemed back to his old self.

“First, we’ve got to avoid her web. To avoid her web, we have to see it.” Ladybug patted the sack on her shoulder. “Up for making it snow, Kitty?”

“Might be a little early for a white Christmas,” Chat winked, “but I don’t mind celebrating early.” He took the flour sack from her shoulder. Together, they ran several blocks before crawling out of a manhole cover and onto an empty street.

Chat launched himself high into the air with his baton. Safely out of range of Tarantola, he threw handfuls upon handfuls of flour onto the streets near the school.  The clear spider silk turned pale white. Soon, it was obvious that there was no clear path to the giant arachnid. 

Ladybug groaned as she surveyed the streets in front of her. “Her webs are everywhere…. If we go to her directly, we’ll be trapped. We need to lure her to fresh ground.”

Chat nodded in agreement. “She was chasing that Adrien guy? I’ll go get him.”

“There’s no need,” Ladybug winked. “I have Trixx.”

“Okay, once we get her out in the open, what next? If we charge her, she’ll see us coming. Or…” Chat grinned at her. “I know you like to see me in a ponytail, Milady?”

“Yes, I brought Kaalki.” Ladybug opened the compartment in her yo-yo. She took out a pendant for herself and handed the pair of glasses to Chat. “Once we know what the akumatized object is, we can teleport close. And destroy it while she's distracted.”

Chat chuckled as he fitted glasses over the bridge of his nose. “Foxy Lady and Stallion Noir to the rescue!”

Ladybug rolled her eyes as she fastened the fox pendant. 

“Tikki, Trixx! Unify!”

“Plagg, Kaalki! Unify!”

___

Multiple hours and recharges later, the battle still continued. The mirage of Adrien was successful in luring Tarantola into fresh areas, but the image would instantly vanish if it hit the webs. Tarantola would angrily stomp her feet and smash into buildings while Ladybug recharged Trixx. It was a slow game of hide and seek until Tarantola was out in the open. During that time, they observed that the akumatized object was a severance letter clutched tightly in one of her back legs.

Usually, Chat felt a bit of sympathy for the Akuma victims. Everyone feels hopeless sometimes; it wasn’t fair that there was a supervillain out there trying to take advantage. But with Lila, he could only feel unease. He knew his words to her were harsh, but he couldn’t bring himself to feel regret. Chat was even more amazed by his father’s quick action. In the hours after Adrien announced he would never model with Lila again, she was fired from the company. Was his father actually listening to him? Or was he just angry that Lila was the catalyst for Adrien’s departure? Chat pushed the thoughts to the back of his mind. He had never understood his father’s motivations, anyway. 

Once Tarantola was lured into the open area near the Eiffel Tower, Ladybug called for her lucky charm. A can of hairspray fell into her hands. Chat watched as her eyes darted around, trying to find a use for the strange object.

Soon, Ladybug was able to grab a lighter off an onlooker. The spray canister provided a powerful fuel for the tiny flame in her hand. When combined, Ladybug was able to produce a huge jet of flame. The webs that shot out of Tarantola were instantly burned. But, even with the webs neutralized, the size and speed of the large monster still made her extremely dangerous.

With no more cookies to recharge Trixx, Ladybug used herself as a final distraction while Chat teleported behind Tarantola. A swift Cataclysm to the severance letter left a seething Lila in its place.

After a round of Miraculous Ladybugs and a tired fistbump, Ladybug offered Lila a lift home. Chat knew it was a formality rather than a genuine offer. They had fought Lila enough times to know she never accepted their rides.

The sky was dark as they watched Lila huff away from them and down an empty street.

“Oh, hey... Chat?” Ladybug began hesitantly. “I won’t be able to make it to patrol, tonight. I’m sorry.” Chat watched as she grabbed her yo-yo from her hip. He couldn’t let her go, not yet. 

“Wait, Milady.” Chat reached for her as she was about to leave.  “I...um, I really need to talk to you. Please.” Getting away was going to be much harder now, he needed to tell her about Marinette, tonight.

Ladybug turned and eyed him thoughtfully. “Sounds important.”

“It is.”

“Meet me on top of the Arc de Triomphe in twenty minutes. I gave Trixx all my cookies, I need to find something for Tikki.”

___

“You said you needed to talk?” Ladybug asked as she landed beside Chat.  He had arrived much earlier and had been pacing back and forth.

“I do…” Chat hugged his arms and contemplated his next words. Oh man, he should have thought this through more. Ladybug had always been such a stickler for the identity rules. But, Marinette needed to know about him. She was his wife, now. It didn’t feel right hiding such a big part of his life from her.

While Chat was busy trying to organize his thoughts, Ladybug waited patiently. When the silence dragged on she finally spoke. 

“Chat, I have something I need to ask. I should have asked it a long time ago... but, you know.” She shrugged. “Fu’s rules.”

Chat looked up at her surprised. Was she going to defy Fu’s rules?

Ladybug took a deep breath. “Over the years, I have been able to tell… well, not for certain, but sometimes… sometimes it seems like you’re hurting. And that you are very alone.” She stood up tall and looked into his eyes. “So I need to know, Chat, where you live… do you feel safe? Are you… are you treated well? Do you get enough to eat, enough to drink? Are there people who care about you?”

He blinked at her. Was she really asking about his civilian home life? She had never done that before. He found himself smiling back at her. It warmed his heart that she cared.

“I know you’re strong and would never complain,” Ladybug continued. “But I need to know you’re okay. And… never made to do things that you are uncomfortable with. I… I need to know you’re loved.” Her eyes were looking at him with such tenderness.

“Yes.” Chat inwardly chuckled at her timing. A week ago he would have answered much differently. “Yes, I am.”

“Thank goodness.” He saw the tension leave her face. Ladybug reached for him, then stopped herself. Chat frowned at her hesitation. But, remembering their interactions over the past weeks, she was probably not trying to overstep.

“Hey,” Chat opened his arms to her. “Come here, it’s okay.”

Ladybug walked to him and wrapped her arms around his back. Chat heard her sigh as she leaned her cheek on his shoulder. He warmly held her, swaying slightly as their embrace continued on.

“I love you, Kitty. You should know that. Maybe not in the way you always hoped for.” Ladybug relaxed her grip and pulled away until she met his eyes. “...but that doesn’t mean I don’t love you.”

“Thank you,” Chat told her softly. “I love you, too, bug.” His face fell as he remembered the purpose of their meeting. He still needed to tell her about Marinette.

Ladybug continued to stare at him with concern in her eyes. “Kitty, talk to me. There’s something wrong.”

Chat took a deep breath. Well, here goes. “I have to tell someone. ...About me. About this.”

“Oh…” Ladybug responded quietly.

“Recently, I’ve... um, become closer to someone.” Chat said delicately. “It’s becoming harder to hide my identity, and it doesn’t feel fair to keep them in the dark.”

“I see,” Ladybug responded thoughtfully, but there was a hint of sadness in her eyes “Does this person care for you?”

“Yes, very much.”

“Would they be able to watch you risk your life?” She asked, pointedly.

“Huh?”

Ladybug gestures over to the Eiffel Towel, the scene of their latest battle. “When buildings fall, when the skies explode, and everyone runs away, we run toward danger. Would that person let you go?”

She’d try to stop me, kicking and screaming. 

“No,” Chat admitted quietly.

“We don’t do this just to protect them physically. We do this to protect their hearts.” Ladybug brought her hand to her chest to emphasize. “So they will not have to see us endanger our lives, while they wait helplessly.”

“About that... I was thinking I could give her a Miraculous.”

“Kitty…” Ladybug looked at him with sad eyes. “Then, would you be able to see her run into danger?”

“I see you run into danger,” Chat responded dryly.

“But, that’s not the only reason. I… I need you. You’re my partner in this. I can’t have you distracted.” Ladybug grabbed his hand and squeezed. “I couldn’t do any of this without you. The only reason I have survived is because you have been there to catch me when I fall. Even when you are not with me, you are still a part of me. I can do this, I can be Ladybug, all because of you.”

Chat heart swelled at her words. She had meant the world to him for so long. It filled his heart with joy that he was so important to her. Tears were starting to form in the corner of his eyes.

“I’m not going to tell you what you should do,” Ladybug added. “I only ask that you think about it before you act. Think about the burden you would be placing on her.”

“I will. I promise.”

“I trust you.” Ladybug took a deep breath. “Even if you make a decision I don’t agree with.”

“But… um.” Chat scratched his neck nervously. “What if she figures it out? She’s clever. She’s actually a lot like you.”

Ladybug looked out to the horizon. “I’ve been talking to Wayzz. There’s a strong magic that veils our identity. He says it changes our memories, alters how people view us. So, she won’t be able to make the connection unless you tell her.”

“But how? Won’t she get suspicious that I’m constantly disappearing during Akuma battles?”

“As long as her mind can come up with any possible explanation, she’ll never catch on.” Ladybug softly chuckled. “You should hear some of the excuses I’ve had to use. And people believe them.”

Chat thought for a moment. “What if there is no other possible explanation?”

“Well, the magic is strong, but it's not perfect.” Ladybug turned back toward him. “It can break if she finds hard evidence that her brain can’t rationalize.”

“Break?”

Ladybug nodded. The wind started to pick up, Ladybugs pigtails danced in the breeze. “Chat Noir, I’m happy for you.” Ladybug smiled warmly at him. “I truly am.”

Chat saluted her and they walked toward the edge of the roof. He was about to jump off and head for home when Ladybug stopped him.

“That’s not the way you usually go. Where are you going?”

“Home.”

“You can’t go this way, I’m going this way.” He saw Ladybug wince before she spoke again. “Ugh. I’m already so late. Can you let me go first? Just turn around and wait sixty seconds.”

Chat Noir nodded then spun around and started his countdown from sixty. He chuckled at the memory of another time a girl asked him to do that. After Plagg de-transformed him that night, Marinette had asked him to wait sixty seconds on her balcony while she climbed into her room. Hm… was that really only two weeks ago? So much had happened in such a short amount of time.

Forty-three, forty-two, forty-one…

Chat sighed; counting was boring. At least when he was counting down before, he found something to do. He had gathered up the scattered charms of the broken bracelet. Chat stretched his arms overhead and rolled his head from side to side, trying to stretch out the tired muscles. Should he give the bracelet back? He had fixed it, after all. And it was pretty solid evidence that he was Chat Noir. Would that ‘break’ the magic concealing his identity?

Twenty-five, twenty-four, twenty-three…

But, he had promised his lady he would think about it first. It wasn’t as if Ladybug gave him her blessing to reveal himself. He knew in his heart that she didn’t want him to. But she trusted him enough to allow it to be his choice.

Chat leaned his head back and looked to the sky. He felt a lightness in his body. Ladybug trusted him, she truly trusted him. Chat knew the burden of being the Guardian weighed on her greatly, but she was much better at it than Fu ever was. Chat felt like a true partner, not just a wise-cracking sidekick.

Now, if only he could get the other girl in his life to trust him as much.

Chapter Text

Several minutes later, Chat Noir landed on a rooftop near the bakery. He was about to jump down and find an alley to de-transform in when he heard someone call his name.

“Chat Noir!” He heard a familiar voice call out. “Chat Noir, please help me!”  He looked down to see Marinette frantically waving her arms in the middle of the street. Oh man, why couldn’t he have de-transformed earlier and sprinted the last block? He took a deep breath and jumped down to the street. Marinette limped over to him, her face full of panic.

“Adrien’s not here,” Marinette told him, her eyes full of worry. “He should be back, but he’s not!”

Chat Noir felt a lump in his throat as she hobbled closer to him. “Um, I’m sure he’s around here somewhere. People always scatter during Akuma fights.”

“Please, Chat Noir, I’m scared his father has him.” 

Chat winced. He hadn’t thought of that. Was Marinette frantically looking for him while he was meeting with Ladybug? “Oh, come to think of it. I saw him a few blocks away.” Chat nervously scratched his neck. “Don’t worry, Princess. I’m sure he’s fine.”

“You saw him? Really?” Her face instantly lit up.

Chat nodded.

“Oh thank, goodness.” Marinette sighed with relief. When he turned to leave, Chat felt a pull on his tail. He looked behind him to see Marinette clutching it tightly. 

“Umm… Chat?” she said hesitantly. “Before you go, I need you to know, something.”

He turned to face her, trying to keep his face as neutral as possible. Marinette hadn’t spoken to ‘Chat’ since the night they shared kisses on her balcony. Was Marinette going to give him a ‘let’s just be friends’ speech? Chat struggled not to smile at the irony.

“The things I said that night on the balcony. What I said about Adrien. I...I was wrong.”  Marinette looked down as she released his tail. “I just needed you to know.”

Chat stared back at her. “Why?” He asked before he could stop himself. That was what she was worried about?

Marinette looked up at him and smiled softly. “Because you’re important to me.” Chat grinned at her words. “And he’s important to me.”

“We are both very lucky, then.” Chat winked at her. “Don’t worry, Princess. I’ll go find your husband and send him straight home.”

“Hus-” Marinette gasped, obviously surprised. “Wait. How did you know?”

“News travels fast!” Chat replied as he used his baton to leap over the building.

Adrien dropped his transformation a block away from Marinette. It was almost an hour after the Akuma battle. Of course Marinette was going to be worried. Adrien groaned. He wasn’t used to this. After all, his father never kept very good track of him. As long as Adrien met his scheduled obligations, his father always assumed he was in his room.

He ran through the streets until he spotted Marinette. She was leaning on a lamppost rubbing her ankle. She called out to him as soon as she saw him.

“Adrien!”

Adrien wasted no time in grabbing her in a giant hug. “I’m so sorry I worried you. After I tried to lead Tarantola away from the school, I… um kinda got lost.” Marinette held him with a vice-like grip, as Adrien gently rubbed her back. 

“Shh… it’s okay,” he soothed. “What’s wrong with your foot?”

“It’s my ankle.” Marinette pulled away and looked at the leg in question. “I don’t think it's sprained, just a little sore. I landed on it wrong.”

“Landed?”

“I may… um, I may have climbed out of the school window during the Akuma attack.” Marinette folded her arms and eyed him accusingly. “Which I wouldn’t have had to do if you didn’t push me into the classroom.”

Adrien stared back at her. Was she really mad at him for trying to protect her? “Well, you shouldn’t have been following me.”

“Lila was after you !” Marinette retorted. “You should have stayed safe!”

You should have stayed safe!” 

Several moments passed as the teens glared at each other. Adrien suddenly felt very tired. This wasn’t worth arguing over. Other than the truth, Adrien doubted she would accept any other explanation.

“I’m sorry I worried you,” Adrien said sincerely. It wasn’t really an apology for running off, but he hoped Marinette wouldn’t notice. “Next time a giant Akumatized spider comes after me, I’ll stay hidden.”

Before Marinette had a chance to respond, Adrien dipped down, hooked her knees, and scooped her up in his arms.

“Hey! I can walk, you know.” Marinette huffed, her arms still crossed on her chest.

“Of course you can. But I can also carry you.” Adrien cheerfully replied as he began to walk toward the bakery.

Marinette acted indignant in his arms, but she made no attempt to get down. Adrien softened his tone. “You’re hurt. You should let me help.”

“I can manage on my own.”

“I know, but you don’t have to,” Adrien whispered against her temple. “I’m here.”

After a few moments, Marinette uncrossed her arms and wrapped them around his shoulders. Adrien felt her body relax as she rested her cheek against his collarbone. He may have slowed down his pace a little. Carrying his princess in his arms, he was feeling pretty damn heroic.

Adrien carried Marinette all the way back to the bakery, then up the flights of stairs to the apartment. Later, they shared a small quiet dinner with Tom and Sabine. Well, quiet for Adrien and Marinette. Tom was still quite excited about his earlier encounter with Ladybug. He recounted proudly that the flour from their bakery was instrumental in the battle today.

After dishes were washed and the adults went to bed, Marinette insisted Adrien take a shower first. Despite Adrien’s plea that friends can shower together, he ended up showering alone. When he was finished, he put on his shiny black pajamas and waited for Marinette on her chaise.

Adrien didn’t remember falling asleep, but he woke up to Marinette shaking his foot.

“You should have gone to bed,” Marinette said after a long yawn. “You didn’t need to wait for me.”

“I know, but before that, I think we need to talk.” Adrien sat up and stretched his arms.

“Talk?”

“Yeah… you broke your rules, today. Twice.” Adrien stood up and crossed his arms. “In the stairwell, and again in class. I think you need to accept that your rules are stupid.”

“They’re not stupid!” Marinette frowned at him, defensively. “We both agreed that…”

“But we didn’t both agree.”

Marinette opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out. Adrien took a deep breath and continued.

“Look. I know what you have done for me. You and Ladybug might have very well saved my life. But we are married now. And… I don’t know if that means we’re friends, ...or lovers, but we need to be partners in this. You can’t be the one making rules and then be the one deciding when to break them. That’s not fair! That’s not a partnership.”

Marinette bent her head down. Seconds passed as Adrien waited for a response. When it was obvious that Marinette wasn’t going to defend her actions, Adrien gently took her hand and squeezed softly.

“Look, if you didn’t love me… If you didn’t like it when I touched you… that would be different and I wouldn’t dream of asking. But you’re making walls that don’t need to be there.” Adrien lightly stroked her knuckles with his thumb. “We live in crazy times. Hell, today there was a giant spider running through the street. There’s so much uncertainty, so much fear, but we have a chance at such… such immense happiness. We should take it while we can.  And I don’t understand. You know what I would do for you.  What I did for you, with Lila and you still….” his voice felt tiny in his throat. “Why won’t you trust this? Trust me?”

“I want to trust you, I… I’m just...” Marinette's voice dropped to a whisper, “I’m… I’m scared.”

“You’re scared?”

“Yes! Okay? I’m a coward!” She covered her face in her hands. “I’m scared of this… whatever it is. It’s too much, too soon. Sometimes, when you look at me, I can hardly breathe.  What I feel for you, it overwhelms me. I just... I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“I don’t know what I’m doing, either. But please, we can figure it out together. You’re not....“ Adrien sighed. “You’re not on your own.”

Marinette’s shoulders slumped as several moments of silence passed between them. “I’m sorry,” she said quietly when she finally spoke.

Adrien looked at her sadly. He didn’t mean to make her feel bad; that was the last thing he wanted. But she was sending out all sorts of mixed signals. He wasn’t wrong to be frustrated. She was still watching him through her fingers as Adrien spoke. “Okay,” he sighed.

“Okay?” Marinette dropped her hands away from her face.

“We can go by your rules a bit longer. But you did break them today. Twice.” Adrien held up his finger to emphasize. “So... to keep things fair, I get to break the rules two times. Two freebies.”

“F… freebies?” Marinette stammered.

“Yes. Two times when I can ask you to break your rules. So when we are both feeling…” A huge grin appeared on his face. “...amorous, we can ‘ignore the rules’ and do what feels natural.”

Marinette chewed on her lip as her cheeks started to turn pink. A shy giggle escaped her throat. “So... like kissing?”

Adrien stepped closer, wrapping his arms around her waist. He lowered his forehead until it was touching hers. “What feels natural,” he repeated.

He felt Marinette’s hands on his arms, her fingers gently stroking the silky black fabric. Adrien couldn’t be sure, but it seemed like Marinette was lifting her chin toward his face. Adrien grinned as his hands began to make small circles against her lower back. Marinette gently exhaled as he slid his fingers under her pajama top, softly caressing the flesh of her back.

Seconds turned into minutes as Adrien continued to hold his wife. Marinette’s fingers traveled up his arm and traced the muscles of his shoulders. There was an undeniable tension between them. The previous night’s intimacy was still fresh in Adrien’s mind; he was sure it was still fresh in Marinette’s, too.

“What feels natural?” Marinette asked breathlessly, her lips almost touching his. “Like… now?”

“Mmm… nah.” Adrien placed a quick kiss on the tip of her nose. He chuckled as Marinette narrowed her eyes at him. “I’m going to save my freebies.”

“Save them?” Marinette gulped. “For when?”

“Hm… I haven’t decided.” He smirked back at her. “Maybe five minutes, maybe five days.”

Marinette dropped her arms and bit her lip. Adrien swore she was pouting. Serves her right! He thought playfully. It’s no fun being on the other end of mixed signals, is it?

“Come,” he urged gently, turning toward the ladder of the loft. “Let’s go to bed.”

Adrien crawled into bed, first, and then held up the covers to Marinette. She could have chosen to lay on her side of the bed, but she snuggled into his arms, instead. Adrien chuckled as he buried his face into the soft skin of her neck.

“Hey,” Marinette warned. “That’s not my cheek, no neck kisses.” She paused for a moment. “Unless you’re using your freebies.”

“I’m not kissing. I’m nuzzling.”

Marinette scoffed. “You’re not a cat.”

“Oh?” Adrien leaned closer until his lips were just outside her ear. “I’m pretty sure you could get me to purrrrr....”

In an instant, Marinette squirmed out of his grip and sat up on the bed. She stared back at him with a mix of confusion and mortification. Adrien could swear he saw her eye twitch. Was this the identity magic Ladybug was talking about? Was it the magic not allowing Marinette’s mind to make the connection?

“We should get you some different pajamas?” Marinette was staring at his top. “Black… is not a good color for you.”

“Really?” Adrien gave her a cheeky smile. “I think it brings out my eyes.”

“Actually, I think I might have some fabric that will work.” She started to move toward the end of the bed. “You should have some pajamas of your own. It’ll only take me an hour.”

“If you don’t like these anymore, I’m happy to take them off.” Adrien sat up, pulled off his top, and threw it over the side of the bed. “There! Problem solved. Stay.”

“You’re half-naked,” Marinette whined as she eyed his chest.

Adrien leaned back on his elbows and flexed his abdomen. “I can easily stop being half-naked, if you like?” He wiggled his eyebrows as he spoke. 

Marinette groaned and covered her head with her pillow.

“Hey, come here.” Adrien reached for her as he laid back down. He slid an arm under her neck and wrapped the other around her waist. She was still facing away from him as he drew her against his chest, her face stubbornly planted into the pillow. After a few moments, he felt Marinette’s body relax into his embrace. She pulled her pillow away from her face and tucked it under her head. Soon after, she slid her hands into his, entwining their fingers. 

It felt nice, just holding her. Holding his wife. Adrien listened closely to the soft sound of her breathing. He loved the way her body felt in his arms; the way her hands felt in his. Adrien gently unlaced their left hands. He ran his fingers over the tiny ruby ring Marinette wore. Maybe, someday, he could buy another one.

Adrien heard Marinette yawn. Soon, he was yawning with her.

“Long day. But a good one.” Marinette commented idly. Adrien could tell by her voice that she was smiling. “Everyone was so happy to see you back at school.” Her fingers played with his as she spoke. “I hope you know how much you were missed. How much your friends love you.”

“Yes.” Adrien breathed softly against her neck. “My friends love me, and I love them back.” He paused before he playfully added. “Especially this one friend, in particular.”

Marinette pulled away and rolled to face him. She eyed him suspiciously.

Adrien felt an odd nervousness. He had never actually said the words. Surely, Marinette must know how he felt about her. But he wanted to be able to say it. Adrien propped his head up with his hand as he reached over to caress Marinette’s side. She gently sighed into his touch as her eyes kept watching him. “Adrien, you don’t need-”

“I love you, Marinette.” He spoke softly, barely above a whisper.

She inhaled sharply at his words. This wasn’t pushing her, not really. After all, friends could love each other. Marinette’s gaze softened as she reached for him, gently cupping his jaw and leading it toward her face. For a moment, Adrien was positive he was about to get another freebie. But then, he felt Marinette’s soft kiss on his cheek. She reached around to his back and pulled him in close. Adrien hesitated for a moment, not wanting to rest his weight on her. But soon he relaxed, burying his face in her neck.

“I love you, too. Adrien.” Marinette whispered as she kissed his temple, her soft hands gently caressing the skin of his back. Adrien melted into her touch. A giddy happiness began to fill his chest. Was this really going to be his life now? Falling asleep every night in the arms of his wife?

After a few minutes, Adrien’s thoughts drifted back to his earlier conversation with Ladybug. He promised his lady he would think a while before he acted. But, if Marinette knew that he was Chat Noir, would it really be a burden like Ladybug suggested? He frowned, Marinette really didn’t like him chasing after the Akuma today. Would knowing he was a superhero have helped? Or would that have made her more determined to stay with him?

Marinette fingers were playing with his hair, now. Adrien couldn’t be sure, but he felt he might be drooling a little bit. He could always think about this later, right? He didn’t want to think about anything, right now. There wasn’t any hurry, was there?

Besides, it would be a while until the next Akuma attack.

Chapter Text

Marinette woke up to the smell of fresh coffee. With her eyes still closed, she reached out to Adrien. When her fingers turned up empty, she promptly opened her eyes to find Tikki smiling at her from Adrien’s pillow.

“Good morning, Marinette!” the tiny god happily greeted her. “If you’re looking for your husband, he got up over an hour ago.”

“Don’t call him that.” Marinette yawned, rubbing her eyes. She looked over at her friend smiling back at her. Marinette felt a twinge of guilt. “I’m so sorry, Tikki. You’ve had to hide so much, lately. It must be lonely.”

“Oh, don’t worry about me.” Tikki giggled. “I haven’t been lonely at all.”

“I guess that’s one advantage of being the Guardian,” Marinette stated blandly. “How are the kwamis?”

Tikki gave her a pained look.

“Oh, no. What happened?”

“Well, Barkk and Xuppu are upset. You told them you’d try to take them out, last week.” 

Marinette groaned and hid her face in her hands. She had been so focused on helping Adrien, that she had been neglecting all her Guardian duties. Ugh. She made a mental note to apologize about that later. Hmm… maybe some of their favorite snacks might help? Marinette needed to go shopping, anyway. She and Chat were almost out of power-ups and some of the ingredients were hard to find.

Tikki continued talking about the drama in the Miracle Box while Marinette’s mind wandered further.

Oh man! How was she ever going to make the power-ups with Adrien around? The boy took long showers, but not that long. And if she asked for a few hours of ‘alone time’ behind a locked door, she knew exactly what he was going to assume. Maybe she could get her Dad to take Adrien to a movie?

“...That in itself isn’t so bad,” Tikki went on, unaware of Marinette’s feigned interest. “But Kaalki can’t stop boasting about yesterday’s Akuma attack. Kaalki really liked working with Chat Noir.”

Marinette's face fell further at the mention of her partner’s name.

“Oh, Marinette! What’s wrong?”

She gazed at Tikki sadly. An ache started to form in her chest. “He has someone. Someone he cares about very much.”

“I thought you said you were happy for him.” The little god cocked her head in confusion.

“I am. It’s just…”

“Marinette?” Tikki teased. “Are you jealous?”

She stared at her friend. “Yes,” Marinette answered without hesitation. 

“Why?” Tikki was obviously taken back by her answer. “You never accepted his advances, and you have Adrien now.”

“That’s not why…” Marinette's voice cracked as she tried to explain. “He’s going to tell her, Tikki. I know he is. I know the way he loves, and he won’t settle for halfway. He will have someone he gets to share himself with, all the parts of himself.”

Marinette brought her knees up to her chest and hugged them. “...I want that, too,” she whispered.

“Fu’s not here, anymore.” Tikki looked up at her with kind eyes. “You don’t have to make the same choices he did. You can tell Adrien.”

“You know why I can’t; it would be too cruel to him.”

“Adrien loves you. And you love him. You two have some of the most beautiful souls I have ever seen.” Tikki floated up and hugged her cheek.  “Human life is so short. You should take happiness when you can, and hold it for as long as you can.”

Marinette looked sadly at her friend. “I won’t be the Guardian, forever, right? Maybe then, if he still wants me…” She sighed without finishing her sentence. Tikki gave her a heavyhearted look as she watched Marinette leave.

Her muscles were sore as she climbed down from her loft bed. It was much earlier than she usually got up; there was over an hour until school started. Who knew Adrien would be an early riser? She thought as she shuffled downstairs.

When she got to the kitchen, the sight made her pause. She blinked and stared at the figures bathed in the morning sunlight. Her father and Adrien were washing dishes in the sink, while her mother sat at the table with a cup of tea in her hand. Adrien still hadn’t put a shirt on, but he had her pink apron tied around his waist. The three were engaged in a lighthearted conversation and didn’t notice Marinette, at first.

She wasn’t sure why, but Marinette felt strangely overcome with emotion. Seeing Adrien so relaxed and at ease with her parents, it was sweet enough to make her heart hurt. He was really a part of a family, now. Her family. Marinette knew she had a stupid happy smile on her face. Adrien was home.

Sabine finally noticed her daughter standing at the bottom of the stairs. “Well, good morning, dear,” she said sweetly.

“Morning, Mom,” Marinette answered back. “What’s going on?” 

“Cooking lessons,” Tom answered, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“Good morning, Marinette!” Adrien ran over and excitedly kissed her cheek. “Would you like an omelette?”

Over his shoulder, she saw both her parents enthusiastically nod at her.

“Uh... yes?” Marinette replied hesitantly. A huge grinned appeared on Adrien’s face as he turned and headed back to the kitchen. Marinette found herself giggling at his eagerness. But soon, her eyes fell to the well-toned muscles of Adrien’s back and well-defined shoulders. “Mom,” she whined, “you should have made him put on a shirt.”

“Now why would I do that? The apron is keeping him protected against splatters. Besides, I remember what it was like when your father and I were first married.” Sabine took a sip of tea; Marinette could swear her cheeks were turning pink. “Your father couldn’t keep his clothes on either.”

“Ugh!” Marinette covered her ears with her hands. “I didn’t need to know that.” She looked over to where her father was grinning proudly. “Why are you up here? Both of you, shouldn’t someone be down in the bakery?

“Oh, we closed early,” Sabine answered cheerfully.

“Closed?” Marinette repeated. The bakery seldom closed, and never this early in the morning. “Why?”

Tom and Sabine exchanged knowing looks. “You should look outside.”

Marinette walked over to the window and peered outside. There must have been almost a hundred people cramped around the front of the bakery. Some of them had big expensive cameras with large lenses.

“They were here before we opened,” Sabine explained. “We told them they could stay if they bought something. Soon, there was nothing left to sell.”

“Look.” Adrien was suddenly beside her with a whisk in his hand. “They’re here to see us.” A woman spotted them looking through the window. She pointed and shouted. Soon, everyone was looking up at them, smiling and cheering. Then, flashes started firing from the cameras.

“I think…” Marinette’s still-sleepy brain struggled to react. “I think I need coffee.”

“Oh! I’ll get you some.” Adrien offered enthusiastically. “I made that, too.”

Marinette sat next to her mother while Adrien brought her a clean mug. He set it down in front of her and, with a huge grin, poured out the last of the coffee. Marinette couldn’t help giggling. Adrien just looked so pleased with himself.

Once Adrien put the coffee pot away, he then grabbed two eggs and a bowl. Marinette watched as Adrien focused on the task at hand. With great concentration, he delicately cracked the eggs into the bowl, added water, and began whisking. 

Tom came over and grabbed his shoulders, squeezing him into a sideways hug. “See, Marinette! The boy’s a natural. He just learned how to crack eggs this morning, and not a single shell!”

“Careful there, Adrien.” Marinette playfully warned as she sipped her coffee. “Dad might try to make a baker out of you.”

“If that’s what Adrien wants, I’m sure he’d become the finest of bakers.” Tom beamed proudly. “He already has the heart for it.”

Adrien danced on his heels as he continued to whisk the eggs. “For lunch, I am going to learn how to make crêpes!”

A sudden knock at the door startled everyone.

“I’ll get it.” Marinette jumped out of her seat and walked over to the door. She unlatched the lock and opened it. Her heart started beating faster when she saw Nathalie and Adrien’s bodyguard on the other side.

“N...Nathalie?” Marinette stammered. Oh no! What if they’re here to take Adrien?

Tom ran over in an instant and stood between the doorway and Adrien. Marinette was surprised to see her father move so quickly. “Can I help you?” Tom asked stiffly.

Nathalie cleared her throat and adjusted a box in her arms. “I have some items for Adrien; gifts, too.” Tom continued to eye her suspiciously.  “And I wish to talk.”

“It’s okay, Mr. Dupain. They’re not going to try to take me.” Adrien assured him, resting his hand on the larger man’s arm. “Can we invite them inside?”

Tom nodded, but Marinette could tell he was wary of them.

Adrien’s bodyguard carried inside three large suitcases and set them on the floor. Next, he brought in a brightly wrapped package that was almost the same size as Adrien. 

“Is that for me?” Adrien asked, wide-eyed at the size of the package. “From you?”

The large man nodded with a soft smile on his face. Adrien tore off the paper to reveal an 88-key digital piano keyboard. Marinette watched as Adrien’s face dropped with surprise. It was a truly thoughtful gift, and Adrien was obviously touched.

“He knew how much playing piano meant to you and your mother,” Nathalie told him softly. “We wanted you to be able to still have that.”

Adrien appeared to be blinking back tears. “Thank you,” he whispered.

“There’s this, too.” Nathalie held out the flat box in her arms. “It’s a laptop. Our technicians have told me it's the most up to date one available. They’ve also installed all the academic software you should need, as well as design software for Miss Du… for Marinette.”

Adrien took the box graciously.

“And here….” Nathalie reached into her pocket and handed Adrien his phone. “The data has been erased, but the number still works. We can continue to pay for your plan or, if you prefer, we can release the account.”

“Did father…” Adrien began, his brows were furrowed in confusion as he stared at his phone. “Did father send you over with all this?”

“Your father is still asleep,” Nathalie answered bluntly.

“Sleep? He never sleeps this late.”

“He may have unintentionally taken a sedative.”

There was something in Nathalie’s eyes that made Marinette doubt it was an accident. It gave her chills. Wow, Nathalie is scary.

“How does one unintentionally take…?” Adrien stopped himself. Marinette guessed he had come to the same conclusion she had.

“Would you guys like to stay for an omelette?” Adrien offered eagerly. Marinette suspected an attempt to change the subject as well as to show off his newly acquired skill. “I just learned how to make them this morning.”

Nathalie was about to speak when Adrien’s bodyguard walked over to the table and sat down. He grinned warmly as he nodded at Adrien.

“Oh, there’s coffee, too.” Adrien winked at Nathalie. “Well, there will be. Let me make a fresh pot.”

“I’d like that, thank you.” Nathalie politely smiled.

Adrien turned and headed back to the kitchen. He measured, poured, and ground the coffee, happily explaining the whole process.

“Adrien,” Nathalie spoke once the coffee started brewing. “I will also need your agent’s number.”

“My agent?” Adrien repeated as he started melting butter in a skillet.

“Yes. There have been numerous inquiries for a formal press release regarding your marriage to Miss Dupain-Cheng, as well as monetary offers for interviews and photos. I can forward these on to your agent.”

Marinette paled at her words. Press releases? Interviews? Photos? She had never even thought about those. She felt a certain anger rising in her. Where were all these people caring about Adrien’s life when he was living on the streets? Or being exploited by his father?

“I, um…” Adrien shifted the skillet in his hands, making sure the butter covered the entire pan, “I don’t have one, yet.”

“I can give you some names. I imagine your attorney can also do the same.”

Adrien poured in the eggs. “Why… why are you helping me? Isn’t father still angry?”

“Your father does not adjust to change well,” Nathalie admitted. “But I believe, with time, we can establish an amicable relationship. In fact, I have some ideas for that.”

“Ideas?” Adrien raised an eyebrow.

“Yes. Allow your father to sponsor a public wedding between you and Miss Dupain-Cheng.” Marinette’s face fell at Nathalie’s words. “It would show the world that your father supports your union. You could allow your father to design your suit. I assume your wife would design her own gown. Our team of seamstresses and pattern-makers would be at her disposal.”

Of all the ways Marinette expected Adrien’s father to react, throwing them a large public wedding wasn’t one of them. The memory of trying to kiss Adrien in front of their class was still fresh in her mind. Marinette winced and bit her lip. Could she really go through with a big public wedding like Nathalie suggested?

And while the offer of access to Gabriel Agreste’s resources was an amazing offer to a young designer, it seemed a bit like a bribe. And it wasn’t enough for her to forget the type of father he was to Adrien.

Marinette looked over to Adrien. He was watching her with a bewildered expression on his face.

“Perhaps a spring wedding?” Nathalie added.

A heavy silence hung in the air.

“Well, I know Marinette’s always dreamed of making a wedding dress.” Sabine finally said politely, breaking the silence.

“And what would Gabriel expect for his generosity?” Tom asked, crossing his arm across his chest.

Nathalie looked up at him thoughtfully. “Just a chance to be a part of Adrien’s life again. Perhaps Adrien could come over for part of Christmas. Of course, you would all be welcome, as well.”

“Would Adrien be expected to model for his father, again?” Tom asked, narrowing his eyes.

“Expected? No. But if he chooses to, Adrien will set the terms and be generously compensated.” Nathalie adjusted her glasses. “Funds, I’m sure, that will be very helpful in starting his new life.”

“Adrien doesn’t need to earn money. He’s only sixteen.” Tom didn’t hide the hardness in his voice. “He might be an emancipated minor, but he’s not an adult. And he can stay here until he is.”

“I meant no offense.”

“But these… these aren’t father’s ideas, are they?” Adrien asked softly as he tended to the omelette. Marinette noticed his shoulders slump a little.

“No... not yet,” Nathalie admitted. “But give me a week, maybe two, and he’ll think they were.”

Marinette met his eyes, again. She could tell he was looking for guidance on what to answer, but Marinette was torn. On the one hand, she wouldn’t be bothered if Adrien never again spoke to his father. But if Gabriel were to try to become a better father and make amends… could they really ignore that? Marinette walked over to Adrien and rested a hand on his arm.

“Can we think about it for a little while?” Marinette asked Nathalie.

“Of course. In the meantime, I will issue a press release. It will say that although your father was surprised by your decision to elope, he supports your desire for independence. And warmly welcomes Marinette into the Agreste family.”

Marinette squirmed uncomfortably. Agreste Family?

“But Adrien,” Nathalie continued, “there is a lot of public interest in you and Marinette. I would encourage you to get an agent as soon as possible. You may also want to consider updating your social media, again.” Nathalie glanced over to the windows. “So far, your fans seem happy for you. But you might want to give them something in return, or they may start fabricating their own stories.”

“My fans are happy for me?” Adrien asked innocently.

The question brought a small smile to Nathalie’s lips. “Yes. In their eyes, you walked away from fame and fortune for love. A young man defying his father to elope with his teenage bride. The media lives for stories like this.”

Adrien turned back to his omelette. “I could… I could post about making an omelette for Marinette.” Adrien mused.

“I think that would go over very well.”

“What do you think, Marinette?”

“Only if it's what you want to do.” She told him softly, “Don’t let yourself feel pressured. I don’t care if people make up stories about us.”

Adrien leaned over and whispered in her ear. “And I don’t mind if people see us. Besides,” he gazed down at the pan, “it’s a nice looking omelette, isn’t it?” He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone, and held it out in front of them.

“What are you doing?”

“Breakfast selfie, making an omelette for my wife.”

Marinette ducked away from the view of the tiny camera lens. “I haven’t even washed my face.”

“Doesn’t matter, you’re always beautiful.” Adrien flashed her that brilliant smile of his.  Marinette turned her back to the adults in the room, desperately trying to hide the deep blush on her face. Oh god! Adrien is flirting with me in front of them!

Adrien chuckled and turned his attention back to his phone, trying to get a good angle for both him and the pan. Marinette covered her face with her hands and giggled at him. He looked ridiculous.

“Here, then.” Adrien handed her his phone. “You take a picture of me.”

Marinette rolled her eyes and opened the camera app on Adrien’s phone. “I’m only doing this so you can remember your first time making omelettes.” She took a few steps back to get Adrien and the stove in frame. Adrien was backlit by the sunlight from the windows, his golden hair glowing almost white at the tips. Marinette caught herself licking her lips as she snapped a few photos. That omelette looked delicious.

Within a minute, Adrien finished Marinette’s omelette and started another for his bodyguard. Marinette sat down at the table and ate her breakfast quietly. Nathalie pulled out her tablet and began showing Marinette all the popular wedding venues in Paris. She wished she could think of a polite way to tell Nathalie to stop. The talk of a big wedding was making her feel queasy, and she really wanted to enjoy her omelette.

After breakfast, Marinette and Adrien carried the suitcases and the piano keyboard up to their room. Adrien pulled some fresh clothes out of the suitcase and even found some product for his hair. Seeing Adrien back in his own clothes with his hair styled took Marinette’s breath away. She had gotten used to seeing him in ragged clothes with his shaggy bangs in front of his eyes.

Adrien’s bodyguard had just finished eating his omelette when Adrien and Marinette came downstairs. The silent man had a very content expression. Marinette had no doubt that he enjoyed his omelette very much.

“Adrien?” Nathalie asked as Adrien started heading out the door. “Would you consider allowing your bodyguard to walk you to school. Your father doesn’t need to know, and we…” Nathalie glanced at the large man sitting at the table, “we would feel a lot more comfortable.”

Adrien smiled at her kindly and nodded.

“So, have you thought about where you’re going to put Adrien’s things,” Sabine asked Marinette quietly. “Maybe it’s a good time to go through all the fabric you’ve been collecting. See what you can get rid of?”

Marinette’s face fell. “My stash?”

“This is Adrien’s home now, too,” Sabine reminded her. “We can’t have him living out of a suitcase.” Marinette smiled politely and nodded, but she was inwardly pouting at the idea of getting rid of fabric.”

When they were finally ready to leave, Adrien offered Marinette his hand and they all headed down the flights of stairs. Right before they were ready to open the outside door, Nathalie stopped them.

“Adrien, a moment please,” she asked softly. Her whole demeanor had changed; her shoulders were hunched and her normally expressionless eyes were filled with sadness.

“Of course, Nathalie.” Adrien smiled warmly. “I always have time for you.”

Her face became even softer at his words. She took a deep breath before she spoke. “Your father’s a powerful man. He doesn’t take criticism well, nor does he hear ‘no’ very often. I should have done something earlier, Adrien, but I didn’t feel it was my place. Still…” her shoulders fell even more, “I should have done something. And for that, I’m truly sorry.”

“Nathalie?” Adrien let go of Marinette’s hand to lightly touch Nathalie’s arm. “I don’t blame you, and for what it’s worth, I forgive you.”

Marinette could tell Nathalie was touched by Adrien’s words. “You seem happy here.”

“I am.”

Nathalie cleared her throat. “Until things die down, would you permit your bodyguard to walk you to and from school?”

___

The rest of the school day passed as any normal school day would. Adrien officially re-enrolled in classes. Even though he wasn’t expected to make up lost work, Adrien happily assured the teachers he could make up all assignments. Though, Marinette suspected it was so they could jointly work together on the homework she missed earlier in the week.

 All through the weekend, curious fans continued to gather in front of the bakery. Business was so good that the bakery would sell out in the first few hours, leaving Tom and Sabine free for the rest of the day. Tom was taking it upon himself to teach Adrien how to cook, Sabine was handling laundry and house cleaning. They raved to Marinette about how Adrien was an eager student.

The four spent the weekend cooking, cleaning, and playing video games. Marinette was delighted to learn that Adrien was a pretty good match for her father at Ultimate Mecha Strike III. There was always a strong competition between the two.

Monday morning, Nathalie and Adrien’s bodyguard arrived before breakfast. Nathalie asked again if they would allow Gabriel to sponsor a wedding. After an awkward glance at Adrien, Marinette told her they were still thinking about it. In truth, Adrien was letting Marinette decide. But she wasn’t sure she could handle an entire day of celebrating her love for Adrien.  A full day where she would be expected to share kisses with him, dance with him, pledge their love and devotion in front of friends, family, and the entire world. Marinette suspected Adrien’s romantic heart would go overboard on their vows, as well. No, a wedding was a bad idea. It was hard enough trying not to fall further in love with him.

Nathalie also informed them that Adrien’s Instagram posts were very well received. However, fans were still very curious about Marinette and wanted more images. After some initial hesitation, Marinette relented and found herself enjoying posting snippets of their mundane life.

There were a few moments of weakness on Marinette’s part. Adrien collected two more freebies as a result. But it wasn’t really Marinette’s fault, not really. He would just look at her with that stupid sexy smile of his, and she would find herself kissing him without a second thought. 

In an attempt to redeem a freebie, Adrien asked to take a shower together. But it was a total disaster and Marinette doubted they would try that again. It left them both too worked up to share a bed and Adrien slept on the chaise, that night.

When they ventured out of the bakery, they drew attention wherever they went. Marinette found herself relying more and more on her Ladybug skills when out in public. She was used to people looking at her, after all. She could politely smile and answer questions every bit as well as her alter ego. Well, almost… Adrien seemed to delight in whispering flirts into her ear at the most inopportune moments. Marinette suspected he liked it when she blushed. 

Adrien interviewed several agents and decided on the one suggested by his attorney. The agent took it upon himself to arrange an extravagant engagement photoshop for the upcoming new year. Marinette didn’t know much about it, but she knew it involved an early wake-up call and hauling a baby grand piano to the Trocadéro.

After a week of Adrien living out of his suitcase, Sabine put her foot down and told Marinette that she was no longer allowed to join them at video games until she made room for Adrien’s clothes. Marinette knew her mother expected her to get rid of her hoard of fabric, but what her mother didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her. Marinette found all sorts of nooks and crannies where she could hide her stash. One would be surprised by how many bolts of fabric could fit under a mattress.

Making space for Adrien also brought additional challenges. Mainly, where to keep the Miracle Box. Adrien was so eager to learn all the everyday chores of life, Marinette worried he might try to mend a split seam on his own. If he did, he would get quite a surprise when he opened her sewing box. So, Marinette decided to redisguise the Miracle Box. But to her horror, having a locked chest labeled ‘very personal items’ really piqued Adrien’s interest.  Marinette turned bright red when he told her his theory on what was inside.

It was a Saturday afternoon, over two weeks after Nathalie had brought Adrien’s suitcases, that Marinette finally finished her task. She triumphantly headed downstairs to find her parents and Adrien glued to the TV.

“I’m finished!” Marinette announced proudly. “Adrien can start unpacking, now.”

If the three heard her, they didn’t show it. Her father was hunched over in concentration while Adrien bounced next to him on the couch. Marinette looked up at the TV to see they were engaged in an intense video game battle. Her mother was excitedly cheering along.

“Mom…” Marinette whined. “I said I was finished.” She was a little hurt that no one was appreciating all her hard work. Was it too much to expect a little celebration?

“Your father bet Adrien a week of dishes that he could best him, three out of five, in Ultimate Mega Strike III.” Sabine explained, her eyes still focused on the TV.

“But…I’m ready for Adrien to unpack, now.” Plus, her fingers were itching to play video games, again. It was a special sort of torture not being able to play with her family, especially when she had to listen to all the cheers and laughter from upstairs.

“Marinette, you’ve made Adrien wait two weeks.” Sabine reminded. “I think you can let him finish his game.”

“Can we do it later?” Adrien called to her. “We can start after I destroy Tom... YEAH! Booyah! Flawless victory! Adrien style.” He jumped up and pounded the air with his fist.

“I think you mean, you can start after you finish the dishes.” Tom corrected. He was already selecting the Mech for the next round.

Marinette giggled at the exchange. The friendship between Adrien and her father was downright adorable. “Do you mind if I start then?”

Adrien flashed his brilliant smile. “You’re too good to me.”

Marinette felt her cheeks heat up. Why wasn’t she used to this yet? She smiled back and playfully winked. “I know, but you can make it up to me, later.”

After the next match started, she turned around and headed back upstairs. Marinette knew she was better organizing than Adrien, anyway. Once in her room, she considered the best way to proceed.  Hmm… It would probably be best if she emptied everything out first, sorted it into categories, then decided what would fit best where.

She unzipped the suitcases and carefully started stacking the clothes into groups. To be honest, it wasn’t a chore at all, and Marinette was enjoying herself. She found herself running the fine fabrics though her fingers and inspecting the stitching. Most of Adrien’s clothes were designed and tailored to fit him. Some of them were designed just for him and never came from any mass production line.

After Marinette emptied the three suitcases, she remembered the other bag Adrien had with him. She scrunched up her nose. The bag he had with him the night she brought him here. The stinky duffle bag.

The last sunny day, Adrien had taken the bag up to her balcony to air it out. That, and a generous amount of baking soda was applied both inside and out. Now, the duffle bag sat in the corner of her room. Marinette was pretty sure it was empty, but she walked over to check, anyway.

She knelt over beside it and unzipped the main compartment. As she suspected, there were no clothes inside. Still, better be sure it was absolutely empty. Marinette tilted the bag upside down and shook it.

A tattered charm bracelet fell to the floor.

 

Chapter Text

“And the winner of the decisive match is… ME!” Tom bounced up and down excitedly, shaking the apartment. “Dishes for a week, Adrien. You have much to learn, young padawan.”

 “Perhaps, old man,” Adrien smirked at his father-in-law. “I guess I’ll have my wife teach me, then. She’s the master, after all.”

Tom pouted at him, then thoughtfully brought his hand to his chin. “Hmm… what to make this week. I’ll have to make sure it’s extra sticky. It’s about time you learned the masterpiece of Nonna’s Lasagna.”

It was smack talking, and Adrien loved it. Never in a million years could he imagine exchanging such banter with his father. But things were different with Tom. So many things were different, here.

Living with Marinette and her family was like a holiday that never ended. There was so much lightness, so much laughter. Tom and Sabine went out of their way to make sure he felt welcome. They asked for his input in decisions, from what food to make, to what movies to watch. And they always told him goodnight before they went to bed.

Adrien knew his presence brought challenges. The bakery’s regular customers couldn’t get to the store through the throngs of fans and paparazzi. And while most people were polite and respectful, a few would demand juicy details that made Adrien cringe. No parent should ever be asked for the specifics of their daughter’s sex life. 

As much as Adrien loved living with his in-laws, the joy was nothing compared to living with Marinette. It was just the little things, too, like brushing their teeth or doing homework, together. He would fall asleep next to her, every night.  Sometimes he would hold her, other times she would hold him, but they always touched. Then each day, he would wake up before her and spend a few minutes gazing at his sleeping wife.

Life fell into a new routine. After Adrien woke up, he began his exercises while his Marinette slept. There wasn’t a real need, Adrien hadn’t committed to any modeling contracts. But Marinette would wake up just as he finished. And seeing her blush at his sweaty muscles made the effort worthwhile.

She blushed a lot, actually. Adrien secretly loved it! Though her rules continued to frustrate him, he knew they frustrated her, too. It became a daily game to get Marinette to break them. Adrien was proud to say he succeeded more than once.

After the game controllers had been put away, Adrien bid Tom goodnight and finished up the last few dishes. It surprised Adrien that Marinette was still up in her room. She had been so eager to play video games, again, Adrien thought she would challenge him to a match an hour ago.

As Adrien climbed the stairs, he began to feel a sinking sensation in his stomach. Something wasn’t right, but he couldn’t tell what, exactly. The light was off in the bedroom and Marinette always had the light on. But that wasn’t enough to explain this sensation.

It took Adrien’s eyes a moment to adjust to the dim light of the room. It wasn’t quite night, yet, but the early evening sky gave very little light. He didn’t see Marinette, at first.

When he did finally see her, she was sitting down on the floor in the corner of the room. Her body was slumped and her head hung down. Adrien couldn’t explain why, but he felt the need to approach her cautiously. She turned to look at him as he walked over to her.

“Why do you have this?” Marinette whispered. Her eyes were wide and her face was ghostly white.

The charm bracelet!

Adrien froze. He felt an icy cold wave of panic wash over him. Shit! SHIT! She wasn’t supposed to find out like this. Adrien opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. His heart pounded in his ears. He stood in silence until Marinette finally spoke, again.

“At first, I thought that you made a copy.” Marinette broke his gaze to stare down at the bracelet in her hand.  “But… but the beads are damaged, yet the cord is new.” With a shaking hand, she pulled out a tattered red cord from her pocket. “I broke the old cord. Adrien, this is my bracelet.”

He tried to swallow, but his mouth was too dry. He messed up. Oh god, he really messed up!

“Then, I thought maybe Chat brought the beads to you.” She softly shook her head. “but that didn’t make sense, either. Chat Noir doesn’t like Adrien.”

It seemed an odd observation. When did he ever give Marinette that impression? But that was hardly important, now. He continued to stare at her, unmoving. 

“Why… Adrien?” Her beautiful blue eyes locked with his own, pleading for an answer. “Why do you have this?”

“Can you really not see it?” He asked her gently. He didn’t try to hide the desperation in his voice.

“No, please.” Marinette’s jaw trembled as she spoke. “It can't be you. There has to be another reason.”

Adrien walked over and knelt in front of her. He reached for her and gently stroked her cheek. This wasn’t how it was meant to go, but he was in too deep, now. “It’s okay.” He smiled as assuringly as he could. “See me, Princess.”

“No!” Marinette cried as her body bent forward and curled around the small charm. Adrien watched in horror as she started sobbing.

Her intense reaction frightened him. Sure, he was expecting surprise, shock even. But not this. He was not prepared for this degree of anguish. Was it really so terrible that he was Chat Noir? It wasn’t like Marinette hated his alter ego; they were friends. This… this wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Marinette was supposed to feel better after learning he was Chat Noir. She was supposed to accept his feelings, now.

 “Don’t you see?” He asked, awkwardly rubbing her shoulder. “This is a good thing.”

“No no no…” Marinette shook her head, never looking up at him.

“You worried that we were rushing things, that I only loved you because Ladybug brought me here. Can’t you see? There’s been something between us for a while. That night on the balcony, I… I had never kissed anyone like that. I don’t mind that you called me a coward. I don’t. It forced me to take a hard look at myself, and I didn’t like what I saw. So I changed. I changed for the better. And you helped me do that. Please, you can trust this now.”

“Please.” She finally looked at him, her eyes full of fear. “It can’t be you.”

“Why?”

“Because…” Marinette struggled to speak. Her body started to shake as sobs overtook her, again. “Because I’m going to forget you! Everything you’ve gone through. I won’t be able to help you. I won’t remember.”

What was she talking about? Her words didn’t make sense to Adrien; nothing about this made any sense. He was missing something. “Why would you forget me?”

Marinette clenched her fists and brought them to her face. “Because Guardians forget. I’m… I’m the Guardian, now.”

Wha..?  

Adrien felt like he was falling. Marinette was the Guardian? He felt a white-hot anger rise in his chest. Ladybug had no right to burden Marinette like that. Bringing him here was imposition enough, but to shuck her Guardian responsibilities onto Marinette was beyond heartless.

“I wasn’t going to tell you,” Marinette admitted. She hugged her chest as she gently rocked her body. “If I told you... if I told Adrien, then you would become an ally. And Guardians forget their allies, just like they forget Miraculous wielders. It was hard enough knowing that I would forget Chat... but to forget you?” Her voice was high and tight. “To forget everything you’ve survived... to forget how strong of a person you are, how wonderful, how brave?”

Marinette forcefully wiped her eyes with the palms of her hands. “Then I thought… I thought maybe I could be the Guardian forever? But even if the Order of the Guardians let me keep the Miracle Box after we defeat Hawkmoth, I… I can’t go the rest of my life being the caretaker of gods! It’s too much! I don’t want to have to always put being a Guardian first.”

Tears continued to fall in her lap. “I… I’ve always wanted a family of my own, you know. And before that, maybe work in some of the design houses in New York or Milan.” Marinette’s chin quivered as she looked up at him. “I don’t want to leave you, but I can’t… I just can’t do this, forever.”

“Ladybug gave you the Miracle Box?” Adrien said through clenched teeth, his anger growing by the second. “That’s not fair! It’s too much to ask, she had no right!”

Marinette laughed dryly through her tears. “No... Ladybug didn’t make me the Guardian. Ladybug brought you home.” She slowly inhaled. “To her home.”

“What?” Something in Adrien’s brain was stopping her words from making any sense. He was hearing the words, but his mind wasn’t understanding them. Ladybug didn’t bring him home, she brought him to Marinette’s.

“See me, Kitty. It’s me.” Marinette tenderly stroked his hair away from his eyes. “It’s always been me.”

Adrien shook his head. Something felt like it was unraveling in his mind. Marinette couldn’t be Ladybug. “But we’re marri-” Adrien stopped as images started pouring through his brain. Events of the past three years flash through eyes as if he was seeing them for the first time. He could see her, really see her. He saw Marinette in a domino mask facing Stoneheart, Marinette in a red suit flying through the city with her yoyo, Marinette smiling back at him from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

And then he saw his lady, crying on her balcony that night: alone, betrayed, and overwhelmed.

Marinette knelt in front of him and pulled him into an embrace. Adrien’s mind was too occupied to react to her touch.

“Master Fu had Marianne, she was the love of this life,” Marinette explained softly, her cheek resting on his shoulder. “But they could never be together because he was a Guardian. He always had to choose responsibility over love. He could never fully give himself to her, so he hid away. She waited for him her whole life until she was old and grey.” Adrien could feel her trembling against him. “He had love, but being a Guardian always came first. And when… and when they finally were able to be together, he didn’t even know her name.”

Adrien's arms felt numb as he gently brought them up to hold her. He stared straight ahead of him, but his eyes refused to focus. The two most amazing women in his life were the same person. And… that person was suffering. She was suffering from a responsibility she never asked for.  A burden that she was not prepared for.  A terrible hardship she was expected to handle alone.

A wave of realization washed over him. Could this be the reason she pushed him away despite her feelings? Marinette was trying to spare his heart. She couldn’t let him in; she couldn’t tell him about this. For if she did, duty would tear them apart in the most painful of ways. She was going to forget him; he would become a stranger to her.

“Shh… It’s okay. It will be okay.” Adrien rocked her gently and kissed her hair. A strange calmness flowed through his body. All traces of his earlier panic had disappeared. “We’ll get through this. I’ll... I’ll become the Guardian, too.”

“No... that’s too cruel.” Marinette pushed him away, angrily. “Haven’t you been paying attention? You would forget. You love being Chat Noir!”

“I do.” Adrien nodded. “Becoming Chat Noir was the best thing that happened to me. But I love you, more. Don’t you see? It’s not cruel. I’ll be the luckiest person alive.” He smiled as his vision grew blurry with tears. “I fell in love with you twice. Now, after we forget, I…” Adrien’s voice cracked with emotion, “I get to fall in love with you all over, again.”

Marinette’s eyes continued to weep as she stared at him, unmoving.

Adrien grabbed her hand and squeezed it tightly. “Even if our memories are taken from us. We will still have this.” He kissed her hand firmly. “Please, Marinette, I want this more than anything else in the world.”

He let go of her hand, then gently cupped her face, tenderly stroking her hair away from her red, tear-filled eyes.

“Let me be the Guardian, too. And… and we will live every day to its fullest because we know tomorrow may be the day we forget. We won’t hold back. There will be no more ‘rules.’ We will kiss when we want, we will make love when we want, we’ll make the most out of every single moment.”

Adrien leaned his forehead against hers.

“And I will marry you. In front of all our friends and family, in front of all of Paris. We will be so ridiculously happy that it embarrasses everyone around us. Our love will be the envy of anyone who sees us.”

Adrien kissed her tenderly. He could taste the salty tears on her lips. Marinette didn’t react, but she didn’t pull away.

“And on the day we defeat Hawkmoth…” he continued, “we will cry, we will kiss, we will make love, then we will say… we’ll say the most beautiful goodbye in the history of goodbyes. Then, we will return the Miracle Box to the Order of the Guardians… and we will begin the journey all over again. And we will fall in love, again.”

“You can’t be sure….” Marinette choked out the words.

“I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life.” Determination poured through Adrien’s veins. “Make me the Guardian, too.”

“No…” Marinette whined. “I can’t.”

“Marinette, My lady. You have given me so much already, but I need your help one more time.” Adrien steadied his breath and looked deep into her confused eyes. “My most wonderful friend, my amazing, beloved wife, thinks she needs to carry this terrible burden by herself. She needs to know she’s not alone in this. She needs to know she is worthy of so much love... and sacrifice. I need to show her that I’m there for her, that I’m her partner in this. But I can’t do it by myself.”

Adrien pulled her into an embrace, his tears falling in her hair. “I need your help.”

Marinette continued to weep as she held onto him with all her strength, her fingers digging into his shirt.

“Please, My Lady,” Adrien whispered against her temple. “Please, help me.”

Adrien rocked Marinette gently as she cried, her body trembling with every breath.

“Help me,” Adrien begged as a sob tore at his throat.

Adrien held her until his eyes had no more tears to shed. With all his might, he desperately willed that Marinette would grant him this. The muscles in his body ached from holding the same position for so long, but he did not let go.

He held her until Marinette’s body no longer trembled in his arms. Her sobs gradually lessened until they became an occasional hiccup. Then, a while after, all Adrien heard was her shallow ragged breathing.

He held her until the greys of the evening turned into the blacks of night. 

He held her until, finally, she inhaled a timid, shaky breath.

“Okay.”

Chapter Text

Sabine jumped at the sound of fireworks as she climbed the stairs to her daughter’s room. It wasn’t even fully dark, yet, but Paris was already celebrating. It was a cruel twist of fate, that the city was so happy, right now, because Sabine wasn’t sure she had ever been more scared in her life. Her children were admitted to the hospital hours ago, with mysterious brain injuries the doctors could not explain.

Earlier in the day, Ladybug and Chat Noir announced the defeat of Hawkmoth and Mayura. Soon after, Parisians took to the streets in celebration. Schools were released early and shops were closed. Impromptu concerts and parties started taking place all over the city. Citizens hugged and cried in joy as Hawkmoth’s reign of terror ended.

It was in one of these mass celebrations that Marinette and Adrien were found, wandering separately. They had no idea who Hawkmoth was, or why the city was celebrating. They didn’t remember the heroes that had kept this city safe for so many years. But most heartbreaking of all, they didn’t remember each other.

Sabine wiped away tears with the back of her hand. She needed to help her daughter remember in any way she could. Maybe something familiar? Now, where did she keep her diary?

She looked under fabric and folders on Marinette’s desk until, finally, she spotted the box she was looking for. It was some silly contraption her daughter came up with years ago to protect her diary. It had been months since Sabine had seen it last, but, thankfully, it was easy to find.

As she grabbed the box, she was surprised to find an envelope taped to the lid. Sabine curiously removed it to find some writing on the back. She blinked back confused tears and she stared at it, intensely.

Read if Adrien and I lose our memory.

Her hands were shaking as she pulled out a handwritten letter. How could Marinette have known this would happen?

Mom,

If you are reading this, then Adrien and I have lost our memories. I know it must be very scary for you and Dad, and I hate to put you through this. But please, take comfort. There is a very important reason.

You see, Adrien and I have a secret. We were Ladybug and Chat Noir.

Sabine gasped as she was filled with sinking dread. Could her daughter's fugue state be caused by a latent mental illness? She shook her head. But that wouldn’t explain Adrien. Sabine kept reading.

Your mind is probably confused, right now. You are probably thinking this letter is part of a fantasy or a very ill-timed joke. But please, keep reading. There is a very strong magic that veils our identities, it locks away certain memories, and doesn’t allow our minds to make connections that they should. This magic is designed to protect us and those we love. It has made it possible for our identities to remain hidden, even from you. It has made it possible for us to be Ladybug and Chat Noir. It’s the magic that is protecting us now. It’s protecting the secrets we knew.

The magic is strong, but it is not perfect. It can be broken.

I need you to be the guardian of our memories until the day it’s safe to give them back. Until a time when people stop looking for Chat Noir and Ladybug. And if that day never comes, don’t grieve for us. We knew this day would come, we face it with eyes wide open.

Neither Adrien nor I have regrets. We lived every day to the fullest, without ever holding back. We knew the value of every moment and how precious our time together was. Nothing lasts forever and loss is a part of life. Once you accept that, every day becomes a treasure; every day becomes a gift.

Without our memories, it will probably be a scary time for Adrien and me. But, I know you and Dad will be there to help us through it. Resist the temptation to give this box back, not until it’s safe.  It is by design that Guardians lose their memories. Not only to protect ourselves but to protect the identities of Miraculous Wielders and allies.  Please, help us protect those who bravely fought beside us. Keep this box hidden, keep it safe.

Sabine shook her head. What a cruel joke at a time like this.

Frowning, Sabine set down the letter and looked at the box. If she remembered correctly, there was some sort of trick to opening it. But to her surprise, she found it unlocked. 

As she lifted the lid, photographs tumbled out onto the floor. Sabine blinked in confusion at the images in front of her. These must have been photoshopped, or perhaps done with green screen? There was photograph upon photograph of Marinette and Adrien in places they could not have been, many on top of Parisian monuments that did not allow tourists. There were also selfies of her daughter in some mildly suggestive positions with Chat Noir. Sabine felt anger rise in her chest when she saw similar photos of her son-in-law with Ladybug.

But some of the photos were just of the two Parisian heroes. These seemed far more intimate than any other photos she had ever seen of the pair. They looked… so incredibly in love, so incredibly happy.

Sabine picked up the letter again, and read it over and over. With each pass, the sinking sensation in her stomach grew. When she finally looked back over to the pile of photos, she understood. And she saw them, truly saw them. The heroes of Paris were suddenly just her children in costumes.

She hugged the letter to her chest, and let her tears fall.

 

__

The next morning, Sabine walked down the hospital hallway. She felt exhausted. She and Tom had been up almost all night. Of course, when Sabine first tried to explain that Ladybug and Chat Noir were really Marinette and Adrien, Tom thought she was crazy. It was fascinating to watch his mind gradually break the magic down. They spent the next few hours looking through the box of photos. At the bottom of the box, they found a handwritten notebook giving first-hand accounts of all the Akuma battles. Sometimes the handwriting was Marinette’s, at other places it was Adrien’s. Tom and Sabine took turns reading the entries aloud until the sun came up.

Lost in her own thoughts, Sabine almost walked right past Gabriel sitting alone in a small waiting area. It wasn’t really her fault, though. He didn’t look like himself. This formerly imposing figure looked like he had become an old man overnight. He slouched in his seat with his head down. Sabine approached him cautiously.

“My son doesn’t know me.” He spoke bitterly, never looking up.

Sabine stared at Gabriel in confusion. That… that didn’t make sense. According to the letter, only Miraculous wielders and allies should be forgotten. Sabine was positive Marinette wouldn’t have given her father-in-law a Miraculous, even in the most dire of circumstances. A sobering realization washed over Sabine.

“You’re Hawkmoth.” She stated it bluntly. It wasn’t a question.

Gabriel continued staring at the floor. For a moment, Sabine wasn’t sure he had heard her.

“Yes,” he finally answered without emotion, not meeting her gaze. “I was.”

“You should be in prison,” Sabine said without thinking. Her mind was still reeling. Could this shrunken man have been the mastermind behind years of terror?

“My son doesn’t remember me,” Gabriel answered stiffly. “I can’t imagine any prison or hell worse than that.”

“Your son doesn’t remember the love of his life!” Sabine clenched her fists. “My heart is breaking for them and you only think about yourself. You’re not the victim here!”

Gabriel was silent for a moment. “How… how do I fix this?” His voice was so quiet, Sabine barely heard him ask.

“How do you fix this? You can’t. For years you took advantage of people at their lowest. Millions of people in this city lived in fear of their own emotions. People had to watch their friends and loved ones being killed in front of them. Or… or turned into slaves or anything else your twisted mind came up with. I don’t know why Ladybug and Chat Noir didn’t take you to the police. Perhaps their young hearts are still so full of optimism and compassion.”

Sabine stared him down harshly, trying to quell the rage growing in her.

“But my heart isn’t young. And I will never understand your actions, I will never try. I don’t know what motivates one to act so cruelly against others. Especially to…” Sabine felt her voice breaking. “Especially to your own child.”

Sabine bit her tongue. It was still very possible that Gabriel didn’t know Adrien had been Chat Noir. 

“I don’t know anything about magic, or superpowers,” Sabine continued. “But, I know what it means to be a parent. And what a privilege it is to raise a child.”

Gabriel didn’t react to her words.

Sabine blinked the tears away from her eyes; she didn’t want this man to see her cry. “These past years, I have grown to love Adrien as if he were my own. Your son doesn’t remember you. He doesn’t remember the neglect, isolation, and exploitation. That’s a kindness you don’t deserve.”

“I have to do something!” Gabriel practically yelled at her. The air was thick and tense for a few moments. Then a helpless look crept into Gabriel’s eyes. Sabine had never seen him look so desperate, before. “Please,” he whispered. “Tell me what to do.”

Sabine's body shook as she tried to talk deep calming breaths. Putting her own feelings aside, she tried to think of what Adrien would want.

 “We can’t change the past. But we do get to choose the person we are today. Devote yourself, time and fortune, to those at their lowest. Even those that don’t deserve it. No, especially those that don’t deserve it. Because you do not deserve the second chance you’ve been given. The charity for the homeless your son set up would be a good place to start. Rebuild yourself into someone your son will be proud to know.”

Gabriel was still for a moment, then he slowly nodded.

“Are you going to tell him? Who I was?” Gabriel looked down at his hands. “How I was?”

“No.” Sabine could see the tension leave his shoulders. “He doesn’t need to carry that.”

Sabine turned to leave, then she heard him call to her.

“Please,” Gabriel’s voice cracked as he looked up into her eyes, his normally stoic eyes wet with tears. “Take care of him.”

Sabine nodded and walked past him without saying goodbye. Her heart was still thumping wildly at the confrontation. She took deep breaths trying to steady her resolve. Sabine had to be the strong one, now, for her children’s sake.

Her steps grew heavy as she approached her daughter’s hospital room. How was she supposed to look at her Marinette the same way, again? Sabine had always been proud of her daughter, but now she was in awe of her.

When Sabine entered the room, Marinette was sitting up on her bed staring at a bridal magazine. Sabine immediately recognized the issue. It was a special edition, just for Adrien and Marinette’s special day.  A few months after their courthouse ceremony, Marinette and Adrien had a large wedding with all their friends. Well, not just their friends, all of Paris wanted to celebrate with them. Sabine smiled at the memory. They were both so radiantly happy that day. Marinette had designed a beautiful blush gown, and Adrien had looked so handsome in his suit. There wasn’t a dry eye in the packed cathedral as Marinette and Adrien exchanged their hand-written vows.

What would Paris say if they knew they were also celebrating their heroes’ wedding? Well, Sabine mused, it might explain their sudden dance skills. Everyone watched in amazement that night as Marinette and Adrien effortlessly glided over the dance floor, their bodies in perfect sync with each other.

Sabine walked over to her daughter’s bed and sat beside her. Marinette continued to stare at her magazine.

“One of the nurses had it in her locker. I remember designing the gown, but I don’t remember wearing it.” Marinette looked up at her with a sad confusion on her face. “What did he ever see in me?”

Sabine tried to swallow the lump in her throat. How could this wonderful girl ever doubt herself? Sabine gently stroked the hair away from Marinette’s eyes.

“Your amazing heart, kindness, and courage. The same things you saw in him. He’s lived with us for almost two years, and I’m not sure I have ever seen two people happier.”

“We were happy?” Marinette asked innocently.

Sabine nodded. “That’s not to say you never argued. Because you did. Both of you could have some pretty strong opinions, sometimes. And both of you were stubborn in your own way.”

Marinette looked down at her magazine. With her fingertip, she slowly traced the outline of the smiling figures. “How am I supposed to be a wife?”

“Don’t try to be his wife, sweetheart. You can’t make someone love you. For now, just try to get to know him. Become his friend first, then see what happens.”

“A friend?” Marinette cocked an eyebrow. “Then what? We’ll be two friends that happen to be married?”

“The friendship between you two was every bit as strong as the romance.” Sabine reached over and squeezed her daughter’s hand. “And every bit as important.”

Marinette turned back to her magazine. Sabine watched her stare at it, analyzing it with her eyes as if she was trying to figure out its secrets. It broke Sabine’s heart to watch; her daughter was always very good at puzzles. Now, there was a strong magic in place preventing her mind from remembering, preventing her from figuring it out.

Sabine cleared her throat. “Mrs. Beaumont has been subletting her apartment for the summer. Your father and I have talked about it, and we think we are going to rent it. Adrien and your father will stay there for a while.”

“You’re making Dad move out?”

Sabine shook her head. “It was his idea. You and Adrien need time to get reacquainted. Sharing a room right now might be a bit awkward.”

Marinette blushed at her words. “And then what?”

“Well, that’s up to you and Adrien. Maybe, you want to study abroad or take some time off. Do something for yourself.” Sabine smiled gently.

“What does Adrien want?”

“I don’t know, dear.” Sabine shrugged. “We can ask him at breakfast.”

“Breakfast?” Marinette paled.

“Your father and Adrien will be meeting us in the cafeteria in five minutes. We brought some of your favorites from the bakery.”

“I’m not ready, Mom. I haven’t washed my hair! I… I don’t have my lucky socks. Did you bring my makeup? I can’t meet him, now!” Marinette whined. “I’m just in my bathrobe.”

Sabine smiled. Some things never change.

“You may not remember Adrien, but I know him. Those things don’t matter to him.”

Marinette chewed on her lip. “I’m… I’m scared, Mom.”

“That’s okay, dear.” Sabine gently stroked the hair away from her daughter’s eyes. “I can’t imagine how frightening it must be for you and Adrien, right now. But your father and I are here for you, both of you. It’s okay to lean on us for a while. It’s okay to have help.”

Marinette set the magazine down on her nightstand. Sabine watched as she took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and slapped her cheeks. “Okay, Mom! I’m ready. Let’s go meet my husband.”

Sabine held her daughter’s arm as they walked toward the cafeteria. She could tell her daughter was nervous, but Marinette continued on at a steady pace. Well, steady until she abruptly stopped. Sabine heard her daughter exhale rapidly as she looked up to see Tom standing with Adrien.

Marinette pulled away from her grip and slowly drifted forward. At the same time, Adrien walked toward her with a look of pure astonishment on his face. The teens walked toward each other as if in a trance before stopping right in front of the other.

For several moments, neither of them spoke. They gazed at each other with dumbfounded looks in their eyes.  Sabine blinked back tears at the unfairness of it all. These kids loved each other so much. They had been through so much together. And now… they had to start over.

Marinette closed her eyes, breaking the gaze, and softly shook her head. Sabine recognized the action as her trying to gather her thoughts. Marinette abruptly reached her hand forward, offering it to Adrien.

“Hi! I… I’m… uh,” she stammered. “I’m Marinette.”

Adrien slowly brought his hand forward to grip hers.

“I’m Adrien. Nice to… meet you?” He gave a nervous chuckle.

Neither of them spoke again, choosing to stare at their joined hands. After several moments, Sabine watched Adrien smile tenderly before lifting Marinette’s hand to his lips. While looking into Marinette’s eyes, he slowly placed a soft kiss on her knuckles.

Marinette’s lips parted as she continued to stare at him. Adrien continued to look into her eyes as he slowly lowered her hand.

Then, suddenly, Marinette burst into giggles. Adrien smiled back at her as he nervously scratched his neck with his free hand.

“Too much?” he asked earnestly. 

“No, no, no. Well, maybe a little… a little old fashioned, perhaps.” Marinette playfully winked at him. “I thought you were going to call me ‘My Lady’ for a second.”

Adrien wrinkled up his face for a moment before his gaze fell down to the hand he was still holding. Sabine watched as he continued to hold her daughter’s hand, his thumb gently stroking her knuckles.

“I don’t remember you…” he admitted softly. “But, I feel… I feel drawn to you. I feel I know you.”

Marinette repositioned her hand in his, gently intertwining their fingers. “I feel it, too.”

Sabine felt Tom’s strong arms embrace her from behind. He kissed the top of her head as they watched the teens exchange shy smiles. Sabine sighed softly, enjoying her husband's warmth.

“I think they’re going to be okay.”